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Oceanographer: Job description

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Oceanographers use science and mathematics to study and explain the complex interactions between seawater, fresh water, polar ice caps, the atmosphere and the biosphere. Their aim is to understand and predict how the oceans work, as well as working out how to make the most efficient and sustainable use of its resources.

There are four main types of oceanographer:

  • physical oceanographer - studies the properties of currents, waves, tides and ocean circulation;
  • chemical oceanographer - determines the chemical composition of sea water and sediments;
  • biological oceanographer - studies marine animals and plants and how organisms interact with their environment;
  • geological oceanographer - examines the seabed, including the rocks and minerals.

They are involved in areas such as mineral exploitation, shipping, fisheries, coastal construction, pollution, weather prediction, climate change and renewable energy.

Typical work activities

Tasks vary depending on whether you are undertaking laboratory or office-based work, which involves computer modelling, or whether you are at sea on a research vessel, gathering data from subsurface instruments. Tasks will also depend on the type of employer and your level of training and experience, but may include:

  • collecting samples and data from the sea, sea floor or atmosphere using specialised equipment and techniques;
  • analysing samples for natural and contaminant composition;
  • looking at life forms and matter, such as trace metals, present in sea water;
  • performing simulations of ocean phenomena using computer or mathematical models;
  • using statistical models of laboratory and field data to investigate hypotheses and make predictions;
  • analysing and interpreting data from samples, measurements and remote sensing aids;
  • attending conferences and going on research cruises;
  • submitting proposals to obtain research funding;
  • writing reports and papers on research activities;
  • lecturing to university classes and leading field trips.

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Written by AGCAS editors
January 2014

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