Marine Chemist  What They Do

Just the Facts

Chemists Career Video

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dotMarine 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 tanks.

According to Mary Scranton, a chemical oceanographer at the Marine Sciences Research Center, marine chemistry and marine oceanography have become interchangeable terms.

"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."

dotMuch of the work done by marine chemists is used by oceanographers with other specialties. Working on large-scale projects on a team is common.

dotWorking 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.

dotWhile universities have traditionally been where the majority of marine chemistry research is conducted, more private corporations are entering into the fray.

dotMarine 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."

At a Glance

Analyze the chemistry of the world's ocean and freshwater environments

  • Corporate research is making this a hot field
  • Having your sea legs is mandatory
  • Programs specializing in marine chemistry are offered at 50 universities