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Degree in Oceanography

If you are interested in becoming an oceanographer and learning more about oceanography as a career, read on to find out what qualifications you will need to have and what pursuing this career could mean for you.

What is oceanography?

Oceanography is the dedicated study of the oceans and how they interact with and affect the planet. As such, it is an interdisciplinary field which examines the numerous subject areas which affect marine environments. This includes physics, biology, chemistry, geology, and more.

Oceanographers study all of the different aspects of the ocean. This includes everything from the physical movement of the tides and water, the chemistry of ocean water, the geological features of the ocean and its depths, and the biology of all the living organisms that call the ocean home.

Some of the tasks that an oceanographer must carry out include:

  • Measure movements of ocean water including tides, currents, waves, etc
  • Take part in field missions to collect data
  • Measure the gas, nutrient, and salt concentrations in the oceans
  • Examine temperatures across the oceans
  • Assist in the design and creation of oceanographic instrumentation
  • Prepare technical reports and research papers
  • Study how various oceanic factors influence climate change

How to pursue a career in oceanography

In order to pursue oceanography as a career, you will need to have a Ph.D. in the field. To get to the stage where you can enroll in an advanced degree in oceanography, you will have to spend a number of years getting a bachelor’s degree in the field and a master’s degree. It will also help to get practical experience collecting data.

In general, the steps that you can take to pursue this career path are as follows:

Steps to becoming an oceanographer:

1. Enroll in a bachelors of science degree in oceanography

2. Enroll in a graduate degree program in oceanography  

3. Enroll in a Ph.D. program in oceanography

4. Get relevant training and experience in the field of oceanography

Bachelor’s degree in oceanography  

At the undergraduate degree level, you will need to enroll in Bachelor of Science degree in oceanography. There are some exceptional universities which offer this major. Programs at this level are concerned with giving students foundational understanding of oceanic systems. Since oceanography is an interdisciplinary field, students will learn a wide range of topics related to marine environments including biology, chemistry, geology, physics, and more.



Some of the courses offered

Bachelors of science degree in oceanography   

4 years

  • Introduction to Oceanography
  • Introduction to Field Oceanography
  • Chemical Oceanography
  • Marine Geology and Geophysics
  • Physical Processes in Oceanography
  • Biological Oceanography
  • Design of Oceanographic Field Experiments
  • Oceanic Data Interpretation

Master’s degree in geological engineering

A master’s program in the field of oceanography has a multidisciplinary emphasis on the various aspects of marine environments. These programs allow you to choose an area of specialization within the field such as biological oceanography, chemical oceanography, physical oceanography, etc.

Graduate degree programs feature taught components, hands-on work, and independent research. You may also be required to complete a thesis at the end of your program.



Some of the courses offered

Master’s degree in oceanography

2 years

  • Marine Biogeochemistry
  • Marine Resources and Law
  • Physical Oceanography and Climate Dynamics
  • Marine Biology and Ecology
  • Marine Geology and Geophysics

Ph.D. in oceanography

Ph.D. programs in oceanography are designed to equip students with the knowledge and skills to take on advanced positions in the field, including teaching and research. After getting a Ph.D. in the field of oceanography, you will be considered an ocean scientist.



Some of the specializations offered

Ph.D. in oceanography

3 years

  • Physical Oceanography
  • Biological Oceanography
  • Chemical Oceanography
  • Coastal Zone Management

Career prospects and salary

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t have a separate career profile for oceanography. In order to get an idea of what professional oceanographers can potentially earn, you would need to look at the career profile for geoscientists. A geoscientist is a professional who studies the physical aspects and attributes of the Earth.

Data from BLS indicates that as of May 2015, geoscientists earned an annual median salary of $89,700 per year which translates to roughly $43.13 per hour. The job outlook for this profession looks promising with an expected growth rate of 10% between 2014 and 2024. This rate is higher than the average rate of growth for most professions which is 7%. It is estimated that this will lead to the creation of about 3,800 new jobs.

Furthermore, there are five industries which have very high levels of employment of geoscientists. These include:


Annual Median Wages (May 2015)

Oil and gas extraction


Engineering services



Management, scientific, and technical consulting services               



State government, excluding education and hospitals             



Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private



Geoscientists typically work full-time. They may also have to work overtime and irregular hours when they are involved in fieldwork. Travelling is a standard feature of this job.

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