Oceanography is the scientific study and description of the oceans. Oceanographers try to understand and predict how oceans work, and help us to use and conserve their resources. Because the oceans and the atmosphere are linked, marine meteorology is a related area of expertise. Marine meteorologists provide ocean and weather observations and forecasts… for people who work at sea or who live on the coast, such information can be vital!
What do oceanographers and marine meteorologists do?
Oceanography combines many different scientific disciplines. A range of professionals may contribute to any one piece of research.
Oceanographers can specialise in the following areas:
- physical oceanography – studying the temperature, density and salt content of the oceans, as well as tides, currents, waves and ocean circulation
- chemical oceanography – focusing on the chemical composition and properties of seawater and marine sediments, and the behaviour of pollutants
- geological oceanography – concerned with the seabed, its composition, structure and formation
- biological oceanography – studying the many life forms that live in the sea.
A lot of an oceanographer’s work is laboratory- or desk-based and involves the use of computer modelling. Although much data comes from automated sampling equipment and satellites, time is still spent in the field, such as gathering data from instruments deep below the surface. Most oceanographers spend some time at sea on research vessels, possibly going down to the seabed, using diving equipment or submersibles. Oceanography has practical applications in areas such as fisheries, mineral extraction and shipping management. Oceanographers often work with marine meteorologists to research the effects of oceans on the climate and the long-term effects of climate change.
Operational marine meteorologists collect weather and ocean data from weather stations, satellites and observation vessels. They feed this into computers, interpret the output and produce and analyse charts. This information is used to predict weather changes, and to provide a record of past weather, from which calculations of largescale changes in the global climate can be made. There are two Global Collecting Centres (GCCs) which are part of the World Meteorological Organization’s Marine Meteorology Programme – one run by the Met Office in the UK, and the other based in Germany. The GCCs collect marine data from around the world, process and distribute it.
The Met Office has also established a research centre – the National Centre for Ocean Forecasting. Applied marine meteorologists are concerned with the practical use of meteorological data. They use various ocean modelling systems for wave, storm surge and ocean current forecasting etc. This helps organisations such as ferry operators and oil companies to plan their work. Predictions of conditions over seasons are useful for government departments and many other organisations. There are occasional opportunities for technical and support staff to undertake the more routine work in oceanography and marine meteorology.
What skills and personal qualities do you need?
An oceanographer or marine meteorologist needs:
- analytical skills
- to be observant, patient, accurate and able to pay attention to detail
- numerical skills
- problem-solving skills
- ICT skills
- the ability to work in a team
- good communication skills. It is useful to have ability in another language.
What about entry, training and qualifications?
Oceanography is a career for graduates; most entrants also have postgraduate qualifications. A first degree in physics, chemistry, maths or biology, followed by a postgraduate qualification in oceanography, is typical. There are a few specialised degree courses that cover oceanography or ocean science, often in combination with other subjects, such as chemistry, geography, geology, computing or meteorology. Some courses give the opportunity for a year abroad. Choosing a broad area of study rather than a specialist first degree will help to keep your options open. For information on degree course entry requirements, see page 34. Professional meteorologists usually have degrees in maths, physics or meteorology, but other subjects may be acceptable. Postgraduate courses in meteorology are also available for those with appropriate degree subjects. The Met Office in the UK is a major employer of meteorologists – they provide off- and on-the-job training for graduates.
Suitably qualified, experienced and competent people can apply for ‘Chartered status’ via a number of professional institutions including the Royal Meteorological Society and the IMarEST which offers Chartered Scientist, Chartered Marine Scientist and Chartered Marine Technologist status. Entry requirements for technical and support staff vary, but you are likely to need A level or equivalent qualifications; some technicians hold qualifications at Higher National level. Support staff in marine meteorology may be able to work towards the NVQ level 3 in weather observing or an NVQ level 4 in weather forecasting.
Who employs oceanographers/ marine meteorologists?
Employers of oceanographers and marine meteorologists include:
- research institutes (such as those funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council)
- research teams at universities
- national meteorological services, such as the Met Office in the UK which provides services to all kinds of public and private organisations
- energy-supply companies
- companies in the water industry
- marine survey and consulting companies
- ocean instrumentation manufacturers
- defence establishments
- environmental consultancies.
What about future prospects?
Some posts are offered as contracts to work on a particular project for a fixed period of about three years. Experienced marine meteorologists may move into the increasing number of forecasting and consultative services.
Where can I find out more?
- pdf Careers in Oceanography and Marine Science (230 KB)
- The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST) – tel: +44 (0)207 382 2600. www.imarest.org
- Met Office – tel: +44 (0)870 900 0100. Website carries information about career opportunities and vacancies. www.metoffice.gov.uk
- National Oceanography Centre, Southampton – tel: +44 (0)23 8059 6666. www.noc.soton.ac.uk
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) – tel: +44 (0)1793 411500. www.nerc.ac.uk
- Royal Meteorological Society – tel: +44 (0)118 956 8500. Website lists courses and gives career information: www.rmets.org
- Society for Underwater Technology – tel: +44 (0)20 7382 2601. www.sut.org
- United Kingdom Global Collecting Centre – see above website for information.
- University of Plymouth, Marine Institute – tel: +44 (0)1752 233719. www.innovatecentre.co.uk/ marine