Online degree programs in oceanography, while relatively rare, are available at the bachelor's and master's degree levels. These programs typically allow some coursework to be completed online, but require a hands-on practicum or other in-person experiences. Because of the hands-on requirements, these programs can be found at schools in coastal states.
A bachelor's degree is typically required in order to work in entry-level careers for oceanographic scientists, and a graduate degree is required for most hydrology careers and independent research. At the master's level, applicants may need specific undergraduate degrees. As geoscientists, oceanographers may need to be licensed in some states.
Bachelor's Degree - Oceanography
Oceanography is the general name given to the study of oceans. Students interested in this topic learn about marine life, ocean plant life, currents, and anything related to the ocean. An oceanographer might include all of these elements in his or her studies or might specialize in a specific area.
Program Information and Requirements
As with most bachelor's degrees, this degree usually takes at least four years to complete. There are very few completely online programs because most oceanography programs require real-time experience on the ocean to fully equip students for this career.
The online programs that do exist are completely online. Students entering the program are also required to have completed basic courses in the sciences, including geography, and possess good computer skills.
Classes are designed to teach students about the biology, chemistry and geology of the ocean. Students must learn not only about oceans, but they also must learn about weather and other subjects related to oceanography.
Students in this course learn about the physical characteristics of the ocean floor. In addition, they learn about the processes that cause changes in the geology of the ocean floor.
The chemistry of the ocean is vital to the undersea plant and animal life. This course teaches students how to measure the chemicals in the ocean and what effect those chemicals have on ocean life.
Weather and Climate
Hurricanes and other weather phenomena can have a profound impact on sea life. Students in this class learn about the science of weather forecasting and how it can affect the ocean.
Most measurement and regulation of the ocean is done from a remote location. This class teaches students about the methods and equipment used to do remote sensing.
Master's Degree - Oceanography
There are few online master's degree programs in oceanography. Most programs at the graduate level require extensive fieldwork for effective training. Typically, students interested in working as oceanographers specialize at this level.
Specializations can be in topics such as coastal management, marine biology, marine geology, coastal ecology or many others. Depending on the specialty, students may need specific undergraduate degrees or training to enroll in a graduate program. Most schools require a basic grounding in marine biology and geology, along with a bachelor's degree in a related scientific field.
Program Information and Requirements
Certain courses may be offered online, or they may be offered in a hybrid format with required fieldwork to be done in person. Many of the required core courses may be completed online. Fully online graduate programs at this level are not common.
Generally oceanography classes include topics in the geology of the ocean floor, marine and plant life, climate change and environmental toxicology. Depending on the specialization, topics such as biostatistics and measurement methods may also be required.
Students in this class study the archaeological treasures of the ocean and how those treasures are affected by human interest in them. In particular, students learn about the laws and regulations related to oceanographic artifacts.
Legal Aspects of the Ocean and Coast
National and state laws regulate many policies concerning oceans and coastlines. This class provides an overview of those policies.
This class examines the impact of climate change on the ocean. The science of weather prediction, and the effect of climate on coastal and ocean life is also explored. This class provides a scientific basis for the interaction between the world's climate and the oceans.
Most careers in oceanography require the ability to quantify data on both animals and plants. A biostatistics course provides the basic terminology and methods for the preparation of data for research.
Environmental pollution is a major factor in the life of an ocean. This class provides information on the form that pollution can take and what effect it can have on ocean systems.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the oceanographer career path under the general heading of hydrology and geosciences (www.bls.gov). A hydrologist is someone who studies water in any form; a geoscientist is someone who studies the physical aspects of the earth.
Most positions in the oceanography field require at least a bachelor's degree. Work in any collegiate environment doing research might require a graduate degree. According to the BLS, geoscientists could expect faster-than-average job growth of 10% from 2014-2024, while hydrologists could expect about-average job growth of 7%. Geoscientists earned a median annual wage of $89,700 and hydrologists earned $79,550 as of May 2015.
A master's degree in oceanography is essential for a student wishing to pursue research or a faculty position. According to the BLS, a master's degree provides excellent job prospects for someone wishing to work in this field.
Jobs for oceanographers are available in ocean-related industries such as marine fisheries, oceanic engineering, marine biomedicine, oil and gas exploration, shipping and sea water processing. There are also many positions for oceanographers in federal, state, or local governments. It is important to note, however, that most positions at this level require field experience that an online degree may not provide.
Continuing Education Information
Some states do require geoscientists and hydrologists who work with the public to be licensed. The criteria for licensing differ from state to state, but it usually includes experience and the successful completion of an exam.
Because of the need for field experience and training online oceanography programs are hard to find and include on-campus practicums and in-person experience. Yet, they may still be found at both the bachelor's and master's levels, which prepare students for careers as oceanographers.