Oceanographer: Job Outlook, Duties and Requirements

Sep 24, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an oceanographer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties, licensure and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

Oceanographers jobs include working as a biological oceanographer, physical oceanographer, or chemical oceanographer, all of which have different job descriptions and work environments. These workers conduct research and study water, sea life, weather and climates of the ocean. A bachelor's degree is the minimum education needed for these positions.

Essential Information

Oceanographers study water, sea life, weather and climates, which helps preserve the natural resource of oceans and coastal waters, as well as contributes to other professionals' ability to predict weather patterns, determine plate tectonics shifting and care for wildlife. Oceanographers start with a bachelor's degree and then look into pursuing internship programs or entry-level positions. More advanced training may be required for higher-level jobs.

Required Education Bachelor's degree at minimum; master's or doctoral degree required for some positions
Licensure & Certification State licensure sometimes required; certification available and can increase hiring potential
Other Requirements Field and/or lab experience preferred
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) * 6% for all geoscientists, except hydrologists and geographers
Average Salary (2018) * $107,800 for all geoscientists, except hydrologists and geographers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Oceanographer Job Duties

The work environment determines what job duties an oceanographer performs. Oceanographers working out at sea and in the field often have to perform physical and risky live research. Live research requires irregular work hours along with extended amounts of traveling. Individuals working in laboratories often run routine procedures or perform new experiments and studies in oceanography. Office settings are generally more relaxed and allow oceanographers a chance to perform data research or write down scientific findings and arguments.

Job duties vary based on the particular specialization of the oceanographer. A biological oceanographer examines plants, microbes and animals. Physical oceanographers study attributes of the ocean like temperature, waves, currents and tides. Chemical oceanographers look at the chemical properties of the ocean along with its interaction with the rest of the environment. Finally, geological oceanographers research the ocean floor itself.

When oceanographers take on a project, they start by researching and studying information that is related to the project. The exact nature of the research can differ from field research to data research. As the data is collected, a hypothesis is made about what the data actually means. At the end of the research project, oceanographers present their findings and make an argument about the nature of the findings.

Oceanographer Job Requirements


Oceanographers require excellent computer skills to catalogue, analyze and research data. Along with basic computer duties, oceanographers learn advanced computer techniques like digital mapping, remote sensing and computer modeling. When working in research teams, oceanographers have to effectively communicate with other scientists to explain research results or aspects of the work. Written skills are necessary when it comes to publishing specific findings.


Oceanographers start with a bachelor's degree and then look into pursuing internship programs or entry-level positions. Many oceanographers go on to acquire a master's degree for research positions. Doctorate degrees are normal for oceanographers interested in teaching or high-level research opportunities.

The exact major, minor and specialization may differ from school to school. Ideally, an oceanographer acquires educational experience in hydrology, oceanography, environmental science or geosciences. Oceanography schools may offer specializations like chemical, marine geology, physical and biological oceanography. Specific classes vary depending on the specializations, but many oceanographers take classes in ocean minerals, molecular methods, deep sea biology, marine microplankton ecology, ocean waves and marine hydrodynamics.


Oceanographers working with the public sometimes have to acquire a state license. The requirements depend on the state where an oceanographer is working, but generally consist of a minimum amount of experience and education along with the completion of a written examination. If a state does not license oceanographers, an alternative demonstration of professionalism is a voluntary designation or certification.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), geoscientists, including oceanographers, made an average annual salary of $107,800. Jobs for geoscientists are expected to grow by 6% between 2018 and 2028. Opportunities are expected to be excellent for graduate degree holders in the oil and gas industry as well as with consulting firms.

The demand for jobs arises from the need for environmental protection and water management. Along with overall growth, retirements are anticipated to open many new positions in this field. Competition may be tougher for teaching or government positions than other types of positions.

Oceanographers study ocean waters and their effects on sea life, the weather and more. They could work in fields ranging from conservation to the oil industry; job duties vary depending on the specialty. A bachelor's degree and relevant work experience is a good place for an aspiring oceanographer to start.

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