Chemical and Physical Oceanography

Chemical and physical oceanography explore both the structure and composition of oceanic environments. Learn about degree program requirements, course topics, salary info and the employment outlook for some jobs in this field.

Is Chemical and Physical Oceanography Right for Me?

Career Overview

Oceanography is the broad study of the oceans and marine ecosystems. Chemical and physical oceanography represent two sub-fields of oceanography. As a chemical oceanographer, you might investigate chemical properties of seawater, like salinity, temperature and pH, while you'd focus on the physics and movements of the oceans, including currents, waves, tides and heat distribution as a physical oceanographer.

If you pursue an education in this discipline, you'll learn to use satellites, instrumentation and computer software systems for data collection, analysis, monitoring and research. Good technical skills combined with an inclination for scientific inquiry can help pave the way for success in this field.

The oceans are integral in affecting the world's climate and weather, and they contain a vast array of resources that, to a large extent, remain unexplored. As such, many industries rely on the work of oceanographers. An undergraduate degree can qualify you for an entry-level position as a research assistant or marine technician.

An advanced degree opens up many more job opportunities. In addition to oceanographer, you could work as a marine aquatic chemist, marine biologist or marine geochemist. You could become a research scientist for a university or government agency, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Private companies and consulting firms interested in marine resources or ocean policy often hire chemical and physical oceanographers to investigate such topics as aquaculture practices and energy production from ocean waves, for example.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for hydrologists are expected to increase 10%; jobs for geoscientists, which includes oceanographers, should grow faster than the national average, at 16%, between 2012 and 2022 ( Those with master's degrees should experience the best opportunities, according to the BLS.

Hydrologists earned median pay of $75,530 in 2012, per the BLS.The median annual salary as of 2012 for geoscientists was $90,890, with the top ten percent earning $187,199 or greater.

How Can I Work in Chemical and Physical Oceanography?


You can pursue oceanography studies at the associate's to doctoral degree levels. An associate's degree in oceanography generally provides the first two years of a bachelor's degree program, with course credits transferable to 4-year schools. A bachelor's degree in oceanography or a closely related field, like marine biology, is a good start towards a career as an oceanographer. In these programs, you'll likely take courses in basic sciences and mathematics, in addition to major coursework in chemical and physical oceanography subjects, such as marine chemistry, organic chemistry and ocean circulation. Online oceanography courses are also available.

To attain most oceanography jobs, however, you'll need an advanced degree. A solid undergraduate background in chemistry, physics and mathematics is generally needed for entry into an oceanography graduate program. Master's degree programs are available in physical and chemical oceanography, and some schools offer both thesis and non-thesis tracks.

High-level research positions and academic careers typically require doctoral degrees. Doctoral degree programs are available in chemical and physical oceanography as well and generally culminate in a final dissertation research project in a more specialized topic relevant to your chosen sub-field.

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