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Oceanographers study water, sea life, weather and climates, which helps preserve the natural resource of oceans and coastal waters, as well as contributes to other professionals' ability to predict weather patterns, determine plate tectonics shifting and care for wildlife. Future Growth Very Strong

Being an oceanographer could see you involved in areas such as mineral exploitation, shipping, fisheries, coastal construction, pollution, weather prediction, climate change and renewable energy.  

Oceanographers study the motion of water in oceans, its physical and chemical properties, and interactions with ocean shores and climate. Oceanographers aim to understand how the oceans work, as well as how to make the most efficient and sustainable use of ocean resources. Oceanographers may also be, or be known as, marine biologists or marine geologists.

ANZSCO ID: 234412

Specialisations: Types of oceanographer

You can choose to specialise in one area of oceanography, such as:

  • physical oceanography - studying the properties of currents, waves, tides and ocean circulation, plus the temperature, density and salt content of oceans;

  • chemical oceanography - determining the chemical composition of sea water and sediments and effect of pollutants;

  • biological oceanography - studying marine animals and plants and how organisms interact with their environment;

  • geological oceanography - examining the seabed, including the rocks and minerals.


Oceanographer Careers
Oceanographer Careers
(Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

Knowledge, skills and attributes

Oceanographers require excellent computer skills to catalogue, analyze and research data. Along with basic computer duties, oceanographers learn advanced computer techniques like digital mapping, remote sensing and computer modeling. When working in research teams, oceanographers have to effectively communicate with other scientists to explain research results or aspects of the work. Written skills are necessary when it comes to publishing specific findings.

You will need to show:

  • excellent communication skills, both written and verbal for working with teams and reporting findings;

  • knowledge and experience of the marine environment;

  • team project experience as you may be planning and carrying out research assignments;

  • good computer literacy and some experience of computational and mathematical modelling;

  • good observational skills and attention to detail for analysing samples;

  • determination, perseverance and problem-solving skills, while working away at sea and when carrying out experiments;

  • a flexible approach to work;

  • the ability to work well in a team and alone;

  • openness to ideas and concepts of scientific disciplines other than your own.  


Oceanographer at work
Oceanographer at work
(Source: Career Addict)

Duties and Tasks

The work environment determines what job duties an oceanographer performs. Oceanographers working out at sea and in the field often have to perform physical and risky live research. Live research requires irregular work hours along with extended amounts of traveling.

Individuals working in laboratories often run routine procedures or perform new experiments and studies in oceanography. Office settings are generally more relaxed and allow oceanographers a chance to perform data research or write down scientific findings and arguments.

Job duties vary based on the particular specialization of the oceanographer. A biological oceanographer examines plants, microbes and animals. Physical oceanographers study attributes of the ocean like temperature, waves, currents and tides. Chemical oceanographers look at the chemical properties of the ocean along with its interaction with the rest of the environment. Finally, geological oceanographers research the ocean floor itself.

When oceanographers take on a project, they start by researching and studying information that is related to the project. The exact nature of the research can differ from field research to data research. As the data is collected, a hypothesis is made about what the data actually means. At the end of the research project, oceanographers present their findings and make an argument about the nature of the findings.

Your work will also depend on your 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.


Tools and technologies

This work often includes using diving equipment or submersible vehicles.

Working conditions

In a full-time role, you would generally work a standard number of hours when onshore. Depending on the project, you may also spend a number of days, or even months, at sea doing research. While at sea, you would likely work long and irregular hours.

Oceanographers generally work in an office or a laboratory when onshore. To carry out research, you might work on a ship or an offshore platform in a remote location. Conditions may be hazardous and physically demanding.

Education and Training

Oceanographers start with a Bachelor's degree and then look into pursuing internship programs or entry-level positions. Many oceanographers go on to acquire a Master's degree for research positions. Doctorate degrees are normal for oceanographers interested in teaching or high-level research opportunities.

The exact major, minor and specialization may differ from university to university.

Ideally, an oceanographer acquires educational experience in hydrology, oceanography, environmental science or geosciences. Oceanography schools [within universities] may offer specializations like chemical, marine geology, physical and biological oceanography. Specific classes vary depending on the specializations, but many oceanographers take classes in ocean minerals, molecular methods, deep sea biology, marine microplankton ecology, ocean waves and marine hydrodynamics.


Did You Know? 

Disciplines within Oceanography:

Marine Biologists may examine the cycling of nutrients through the marine food chain, from algae to tuna. They may investigate the physiological adaptations of marine organisms. They may determine how sharks behave, how fishes communicate, and how marine ecosystems are changing due to human influence.

Marine Biologist

Marine Geologists explore the ocean floor — its mountains, canyons, and valleys. Study of seafloor sediment cores can reveal the history of oceanic circulation and climates over the past 150 million years. The study of the rocky crust beneath the sediments sheds light on the origin of volcanoes, as well as the processes of seafloor spreading and continental drift.

Geophysicists ask such questions as why the earth's magnetic field has reversed itself at least three times in the last million years. These scientists are beginning to understand what causes earthquakes and can now measure them with great accuracy. They also search places where heat escapes from the crust of the earth for clues to fundamental processes deep in the planet's interior.


Marine Chemists study how the oceans were formed eons ago, and what determines their composition today. They identify ocean resources that may be beneficial, such as natural products with medicinal properties, and investigate means to protect the oceans from the effects of pollution.

Physical Oceanographers study the circulation of seawater and the exchange of energy and matter across the surface of the ocean. They examine the transport of sand on and off beaches and the processes of coastal erosion. Physical oceanographers also measure deep currents such as those flowing from Antarctic waters into the Pacific Ocean.

Atmospheric Scientists and Climate Researchers investigate how the relationship among the ocean, atmosphere, and land affects the world's climate systems. They seek to forecast climate trends through the use of increasingly sophisticated computer models. They also study the buildup of pollutants and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and how they affect clouds, precipitation, and the potential for climate change.

Biological Oceanographers are concerned with the complex interactions of groups of marine organisms with one another and their environment. They seek to understand how factors such as warm and cold currents affect the availability of food fishes.

Marine Physicists develop the means to interact with the oceans. They design and build many specialized research tools, including remotely operated vehicles, sophisticated seafloor instruments, and innovative remove-sensing systems such as acoustic-imaging devices for exploring the oceans. They also develop mechanisms for controlling sand on beaches.
(Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

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