A Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service Publication
VIMAS is a cooperative program between
the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program & the University of the Virgin Islands' Center for Marine and Environmental Studies.
Careers in Physical and Chemical Oceanography
Physical oceanography involves the study of the physical properties of the ocean such as
wave patterns, currents, tides and the changing contours of the ocean floor and
shorelines. Chemical oceanography is the study of the chemical properties of seawater
and the chemical processes that take place in the sea.
What do oceanographers do?
r Physical oceanographers gather data and information that can be used in navigation, coastal
construction, energy production and in the design of ocean vessels. They study ocean currents, tides, wave
patterns, and the factors that affect the movement of water. Physical oceanographers also study the
interactions between the ocean and the air, the sea floor and the shoreline. Temperature and climate
change are important areas of research and study for oceanographers. Some physical oceanographers
specialize in marine geology and study shoreline changes, the minerals and sediments of the seafloor and
the location of underwater petroleum deposits. Research and findings from physical oceanographic studies
can be used to determine the movement of pollution or toxins in the water. Other studies are focused on
harnessing energy from the movement of ocean water (currents or tides), or from temperature differences
between surface and deep water (ocean thermal energy conversion, known as OTEC).
Chemical oceanographers study the chemical processes occurring in seawater and in marine organisms.
Increasingly, career opportunities
are available in the investigation of chemical processes caused by human activities. Studies focused on the
effects of pollution from sewage, pesticides and fertilizers, industrial wastewater and oil spills, for instance, are
important for both environmental and human health. Oceanographers may also study the complex
reactions and processes related to the recently discovered deep sea vents.
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y Ail careers in physical and chemical oceanography require an advanced degree (preferable a
Ph.D.). At the undergraduate level a bachelor's degree in physics, biology, geology, math or computers is a
good preparation for entry in the field of oceanography.
High school students can prepare for a career in oceanography by completing as many math and science
courses as possible, including calculus, chemistry, physics, earth science and biology. Computer courses are
also very important. Math and science courses at the high school level (including advanced placement or
college courses where possible) will prepare students for more specialized courses in college.
At the undergraduate level it is not necessarily better to select a large school, or one with a large marine
science program. Often smaller schools provide greater opportunities to work closely with faculty on
research projects. When selecting a school, choose a size and location where you are comfortable.
Financial aid, work study and scholarships are often available to help pay the cost of completing the
bachelor's degree. Check with the college or university of your choice for more details. Most universities
offer scholarships, fellowships, assistantships or internships for oceanographic studies at the graduate level.
V Careers in Oceanography
Cartographer develops maps showing contours and features of the ocean floor and the coasts for use in
exploration and navigation.
Chemical oceanographer studies the chemical composition of seawater and the relationship between
organic and inorganic compounds found in the ocean; performs chemical research on sediments; studies
desalination processes as well as the extraction of diverse compounds from sea water.
Geological oceanographer studies the rocks, sediments and topographic features of the ocean floor;
identifies changes in the ocean floor over time through fossils, rocks and minerals; assists I locating petroleum
and mineral deposits beneath the seas.
Geomagnetist/paleomagnetist- studies the geomagnetic field of the Earth and its changes over time as
represented in rock and mineral deposits; studies and formulates theories about sea-floor spreading and
Marine geographer- generates and analyzes maps, aerial photos, observational data and data supplied by
GIS (geographical information systems) of marine and coastal areas;
determines political maritime boundaries between countries or states; determines physical and
environmental maritime boundaries between habitats/ecosystems.
Marine physicist -observes and analyzes energy, the structure of matter and the relationships between
energy and matter in the marine environment.
Meteorologist studies atmospheric conditions and related data for long and short-term weather
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forecasting; studies radio wave propagation for communication purposes; studies and predicts weather
development and the movement of phenomena such as hurricanes and typhoons.
Physical oceanographer studies the physical properties of the oceans: temperature, salinity, water density,
transmission of light and sound, currents, tides and the relationship between the atmosphere and the sea.
Seismologist studies earthquakes and predicts their occurrence; studies the geologic layers beneath the
ocean; uses seismic data to locate oil deposits and valuable minerals.
For more information, call or write: Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Services (VIIMS), University of the Virgin Islands Centerfor Marine and
Environmental Studies, No. 2 John Brewer's Bay St. Thomas USVI 00802 (340) 693-1392 or RR#2 Box 10,000 Kingshill, St. Croix USVI 00850
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