Career Clusters: STEM

What you need to know


Oceanographers study the motion and circulation of ocean waters; the physical and chemical properties of the oceans; and how these properties affect coastal areas, climate, and weather.

What is this career like?

Oceanographers study a wide range of topics, including marine life and ecosystems, ocean circulation, plate tectonics and the geology of the seafloor, and the chemical and physical properties of the ocean.

Some of the things an oceanographer might do:

  • Plan and carry out field studies, in which they visit locations to collect samples and conduct surveys
  • Analyze seawater components, the effects of pollutants, and the impacts of chemical processes on marine organisms
  • Conduct laboratory tests on samples collected in the field
  • Use chemistry to understand how ocean currents move seawater around the globe
  • Make geologic maps and charts
  • Study the physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean such as waves, currents, and coastal erosion
  • Examine deep currents and the ocean-atmosphere relationship that influences weather and climate
  • Prepare written scientific reports
  • Present their findings to clients, colleagues, and other interested parties
What skills are needed?
  • Communication skills. Oceanographers write reports and research papers. They must be able to present their findings clearly to other scientists and team members as well as clients or professionals who do not have a background in geoscience.
  • Critical-thinking skills. Oceanographers base their findings on sound observation and careful evaluation of data.
  • Outdoor skills. Oceanographers may spend significant time outdoors. Familiarity with camping and hiking and a general sense of comfort being outside for long periods is useful when performing fieldwork.
  • Physical stamina. Oceanographers may need to hike to remote locations while carrying testing and sampling equipment when they conduct fieldwork.
  • Problem-solving skills. Oceanographers work on complex projects filled with challenges. Evaluating statistical data and other forms of information in order to make judgments and inform the actions of other workers requires a special ability to perceive and address problems.
What is the pay?

The average pay for all geoscientists, including oceanographers, in the United States, ranges from $51,890 to $201,150 as of May 2020.

The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.

What is the career outlook?

Employment of all geoscientists, including oceanographers, is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.

The need for energy, environmental protection, and responsible ocean and resource management is projected to spur demand for oceanographers.

What education is required?

Oceanographers typically need at least a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions. A geosciences degree is generally preferred by employers, although some oceanographers begin their careers with degrees in environmental science or engineering. Some oceanographer jobs require a master’s degree.

Discover some of the courses you will take pursuing a degree in Geology or Environmental Science.