The ocean covers 70% of the planet. It holds ecosystems and resources necessary to sustain life as we know it. And it’s one of the few regions of the Earth that still contains unknown mysteries. If you’re passionate about science, exploration and conservation then perhaps oceanography is the discipline for you.
Often seen as an interdisciplinary science, oceanography combines aspects of everything from chemistry and biology to meteorology, paleontology and climatology. While you’re apt to study a number of topics (hint: plate tectonics, seismology, seafloor mapping and beach erosion), many schools have their programs divided into the following concentrations: biological, chemical, physical or geological oceanography. To give you a (very brief) breakdown, biological oceanography is the study of various life forms found in the ocean and their relationships with one another. Chemical oceanography is the study of the chemical composition and properties of seawater. Physical oceanography examines waves, currents and tides, how the ocean transmits light and sound and the ocean’s affect on weather/climate. Lastly, geological oceanography is concerned with the sea floor and how it has evolved over time.
Regardless of focus, you should expect to participate in some field work. Indeed, whether you’re conducting a visual survey of mammals on the Galapagos or collecting samples in the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll likely have the opportunity to directly apply your classroom knowledge (not to mention enjoy some once-in-a-lifetime experiences).
As you might assume, oceanography majors benefit from strong quantitative and analytic skills. Additionally, you’ll often have to work closely with people (sometimes within tight quarters) so effective interpersonal and communication skills are also imperative. And, of course, you should enjoy working outdoors. One final note of advice, if you happen to be afflicted with hydrophobia, we recommend that you steer clear of this major.
Nuts and Bolts
The course catalogue for most oceanography departments likely includes: Sampling Techniques, Environmental Physiology of Marine Animals, Aquatic Pollution, Physical Oceanography, Chemical Oceanography, Waves and Tides, The Coral Reef Environment, Hydrogeology, Coastal Landscape and Ecology, Sedimentary Petrology and Barrier Islands and Coastal Lagoons.
Oceanography majors frequently show interest and aptitude in geology, chemistry, physics, ecology, environmental science, marine biology, biochemistry, botany, astronomy, paleontology, hydrology, computer science, chemical engineering, geography and ocean engineering.
Oceanography majors intent on working in the field after graduation mostly find employment in research, either pure or applied. And while those with advanced degrees will obviously move up the ranks and achieve more responsibility, interested candidates armed with only a bachelor’s should still be able to land a job. It’s common to find work both within the government (U.S. Department of Interior, National Marine Fisheries Service) as well as in the private sector (environmental consulting). More specifically, an oceanography major could end up working as a marine and ocean engineer, marine archeologist, policy expert, water quality assurance specialist or even work in oil exploration. Certainly, your professional possibilities are as varied as the sea is deep (which is to say pretty varied).