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What Is the Difference Between a Physical & Geological Oceanographer?

This article digs into the differences and similarities between physical and geological oceanographers by looking closely at the degree requirements, career outlooks, salaries, and responsibilities of both these professions.

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Comparing Physical Oceanographers to Geological Oceanographers

Oceanographers study the biology, geology, and physical makeup of Earth's vast oceans. Physical and Geological oceanographers focus on the movements of our ocean's waters and underlying crust.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Physical Oceanographers Bachelor's Degree $80,480 +7% (Hydrologists)
Geological Oceanographers Bachelor's Degree $89,780 +10% (Geoscientists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Physical Oceanographers vs. Geological Oceanographers

Most oceanographers desire conservation of coasts and marine life, and physical and geological oceanographers are no different. Physical oceanographers study ocean water and soil to better understand currents and water movement. Geological oceanographers look closely at and map out the ocean floor. Both aim to know how oceans influence human life and how humans can responsibly utilize ocean resources.

Physical Oceanographers

Physical oceanographers apply theory and observation to study the circulation of oceans. As heat, salt, and other dissolved chemicals move through the oceans and into lakes and rivers, these scientists are able to track this movement. They also study tides and waves to see how these things affect the atmosphere and nearby ecosystems. Once the data is collected, physical oceanographers may then build computer simulations that mimic the movement of the ocean.

Job responsibilities of a physical oceanographer include:

  • attempting to lessen the impact on ocean life of pollution carried by currents
  • testing water and soil samples for pH balances
  • studying the sea ice and polar ice sheets to understand the distribution of these features and attempt to preserve them
  • ensuring a balance between the human use of ocean resources and conservation

Geological Oceanographers

Geological oceanographers work in the field to study the ocean floor and all its processes. By utilizing equipment such as probes submerged miles into the water, these scientists are able to collect data about tectonic plates in or near the ocean shore. They are also able to survey and map features such as trenches that are home to animals that live nowhere else in the world. Geological oceanographers take what they see in the field and create charts and maps of the features so we can more fully understand our world.

Job responsibilities of a geological oceanographer include:

  • understanding the ancient history of the sea floor
  • assisting oil companies in finding evidence for oil and gas pockets based on soil and water samples
  • recording geophysical sounds of tectonic movement, volcanic eruptions, and deep ocean currents
  • studying the process of sedimentation in coastal areas to understand the effects it has on the ecosystem

Related Careers

If you are interested in becoming a physical oceanographer, you may want to also look into a career as an atmospheric scientist, because these careers require knowledge of weather patterns and their effects on ecosystems. On the other hand, if you are curious about a career as a geological oceanographer, you may be interested in a position as an environmental engineer, since these jobs focus on improving and preserving our natural environment.

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