There are at least five different types of oceanographers: physical, geological,
biological and chemical oceanographers as well as oceanographic engineers.
- Physical oceanographers study and map the tides, waves, currents,
temperatures, ice formations and sound waves of the ocean. Their research
helps meteorologists determine long-term weather changes.
- Geological oceanographers study the topographic features and physical
make-up of the ocean floor. They map underwater mountain ranges and study
the origin and shape of the ocean floor's sediments and pollutants. They often
work on exploration projects for oil, gas and minerals.
- Biological oceanographers study the distribution, abundance and
health of plants and animals in the oceans. They study the life cycles, ecology
and migrations of marine life.
- Chemical oceanographers study the chemical characteristics of ocean
water and the sea floor, and the chemical interactions with the marine atmosphere.
They study the dissolved elements and nutrients of the oceans.
- Oceanographic engineers design and build tools and instruments
for ocean research. They direct the installation of offshore structures and
work on undersea projects such as the laying of cable.
Oceanographers often work in remote locations. Research can take them to
the Arctic Sea, the tropical bays of Belize or to the mid-Atlantic. They can
be away from home for long periods of time.
Due to the fieldwork in this job, oceanographers need to be physically
"Working at sea requires a person to be without handicaps," says oceanographer
Ed Dever in San Diego. "Even some conditions that are fairly benign on land
-- diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma -- require special attention at
Although work at sea would be difficult for many physically challenged
people, some oceanographers work exclusively in an office on computer models
or with archived data.
Oceanographers with doctoral degrees often work as university or college
professors. Or they may work at research institutes.
These days, oceanographers are also finding work outside the traditional
places like universities or research institutions.
"These careers include teaching positions at smaller colleges, positions
with government agencies, science journalism and working with non-governmental
organizations, such as the Sierra Club," says Dever.
Hours of work will vary. Out at sea, oceanographers work as members of
scientific teams. They work rotating shifts, seven days a week. Many research
projects require oceanographers to spend weeks -- or even months -- at sea
on research vessels.
When they get home, oceanographers who lead research projects or hold teaching
positions usually work at least 40 hours a week.