The Scientific Field of Oceanography

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  • 0:01 What Is Oceanography?
  • 1:19 Oceanographers Study…
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

If studying oceans and their organisms sounds exciting to you, then you should consider a career in oceanography. Learn why this exciting field is so important to understanding other aspects of Earth, like the land and atmosphere, in this lesson.

What Is Oceanography?

The surface of Earth is mostly water - about 70%! And most of that water is salty and in the oceans. This makes the field of oceanography a very important one. That's because oceanography is the study of the oceans.

This sounds simple enough, but the oceans of Earth are vast and dynamic. An enormous number of plants and animals live in the oceans - about 80% of the world's organisms in fact! Some of these live so deep that we have to send robots down to study them because it's not safe for us to travel there. Others float on the surface, photosynthesizing and providing oxygen to other sea creatures.

There are also an incredible number of organisms that don't live in the oceans, but still depend on them for food or shelter. For example, polar bears don't live in the oceans, but without them they would have a difficult time feeding themselves.

Humans are also dependent on the oceans for food because many of the fish we eat come from ocean waters. Oceans also provide transportation routes for humans and animals; influence weather patterns and regional and global climates; create tropical storms like hurricanes; contribute to Earth's water cycle; and recycle materials through the sea floor.

Oceanographers Study Many Things

As you can imagine, oceanographers must be knowledgeable in many different scientific realms. They must know chemistry, biology, geology, geography, and physics just to name a few. It's simply not possible to separate these different components because they affect each other in numerous ways. For example, the organisms that live in different parts of the oceans are affected by the chemistry of the water in those geographic areas, and those organisms in turn influence the geology of the ocean floor.

Though they must have extensive knowledge of many sciences, not all oceanographers do the same thing. Some oceanographers focus on biological aspects of the oceans, and we call this field biological oceanography. These oceanographers may study biological communities of organisms like fish schools, coral reefs, and algae blooms; species adaptation and evolution; migration patterns; underwater signaling (like whale songs); food webs; and much, much more.

Other oceanographers study the shape and composition of the sea floor. Called geological oceanography, this branch examines Earth's geological history by sampling the sea floor and determining how it has changed over time. The landscape of the ocean floor provides a rich and detailed story of Earth if we know how to read it properly.

Many oceanographers study the chemical composition and processes of ocean water. These scientists study chemical oceanography and try to relate water chemistry to biological organisms, atmospheric conditions, ocean acidification, ocean currents, and various forms of seawater pollution.

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