Marine chemists combine their expertise in chemistry with an interest in
marine environments. They study and analyze the chemistry of the world's ocean
and freshwater environments. Their work -- sometimes called chemical oceanography
or marine geochemistry -- could involve determining how fast the polar icecaps
are melting, or how pollution affects ocean life.
A marine chemist may also deal with the shipping industry. Some marine
chemists inspect vessels as they enter port for any sign of contamination.
For example, marine chemist Clive MacGregor inspects the hazards in marine
According to Mary Scranton, a chemical oceanographer at the Marine Sciences
Research Center, marine chemistry and marine oceanography have become interchangeable
"In the early 1970s, there were some people who called themselves marine
chemists and some people who called themselves chemical oceanographers," she
explains. "The differences have become [more vague] as time has passed."
Scranton thinks of herself as a chemist first and an oceanographer second.
"To me, chemical oceanography is a discipline that uses chemical parameters
to explain things about the ocean," she explains. "My primary loyalty is the
ocean, and I'm using chemical techniques ... to answer questions about how
the ocean functions."
Much of the work done by marine chemists is used by oceanographers with
other specialties. Working on large-scale projects on a team is common.
Working alongside marine biologists and marine engineers, marine chemists
help to better understand weather cycles and atmospheric changes. One phenomenon
that they are tracking is global warming.
While universities have traditionally been where the majority of marine
chemistry research is conducted, more private corporations are entering into
Marine chemists split their time between the laboratory and the open water.
Being comfortable on a boat is part of the job. Field research trips can also
be times of long hours in extreme weather conditions. But most of time, marine
chemists work standard days and weeks.
For Scranton, not being stuck in a lab is worth having to muscle up her
sea legs. "I did not want to spend my life sitting in a lab, staring at a
wall, doing experiments in bottles," she says. "To me, the advantage of working
in a field like oceanography is that it's a very concrete way of applying
[chemistry] to the world."