What Is a Chemical Oceanographer?

Chemical Oceanographers examine the chemical composition of the oceans. They examine the acidity or otherwise and attempt to understand how the ecology, biology and other elements of an ocean might change based on the shifting chemical profile.

What Does a Chemical Oceanographer Do?

They are essentially oceanographers, but rather than studying the ecology, biological life and geology of the oceans as a broad subject, they examine the chemical composition of this particular environment. The chemistry of our oceans is important. Many plant and animal species have evolved to thrive in certain acidities and cannot thrive when the seawater is too acidic or not acidic enough. When an ocean's chemical composition becomes too unbalanced, it can have a profound effect on the ecology.

One of the most important roles they may be working on now is the monitoring of ocean acidification. Oceans are a net carbon sink, but acidification is increasing and this has had measurable effects on the acid levels in the ocean - corals have been bleached as a result of increased carbon emissions and are under serious threat. As the ice caps melt, ocean acidification could be diluted in some areas. Chemical Oceanographers may work with environmental engineers to attempt to redress these problems and restore balance.

It's not just coral and it's not just about climate change. They will look at the problems caused by industrial chemicals and pollution, and advise on policy. They may also work as government advisors, providing evidence for court cases where civil action is brought against a business.

Where Does a Chemical Oceanographer Work?

As they are oceanographers (albeit in a niche), they will work in much the same places as those qualified in the broader subject. They will often work for government agencies such as NOAA, EPA and state protection agencies working in conservation and policy. They will also work in university labs, engaging in vital research as part of global efforts for tackling climate change. They will work with biological oceanographers, wildlife biologists and more. Also, expect to find many career options in dedicated marine science units and organizations.

As a Chemical Oceanographer, you may find openings in private industry too - advisory and policy making in particular for companies who are in danger of polluting the oceans to help them make the right decisions regarding mitigation and clean up (oil spills for example). They may also work for and with environmental engineers in cleanup operations and prepare scientific reports - either independently or as government employees - in prosecutions in cases of corporate negligence. Other roles exist in marine transport; the fuel and propulsion methods that boats and ships use may leave pollution that can affect indigenous populations.

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What Is the Average Chemical Oceanographer Salary?

Chemical oceanographers, who fall under the broader BLS category of geoscientists, earned a median salary of $93,580 as of 2020. The top 10% earned about $201,150, while the lowest 10% earned about $51,890.*

Chemical Oceanography Jobs & Job Description

Chemical oceanographers are scientists whose expertise is focused on the chemical interactions of the world's largest domain for life - the oceans. With so many varied environments contained within the Earth's oceans, many oceanographers choose to specialize in a particular region of the world, however every scientist should be comfortable with the following sets of duties:

  • Collect samples from the ocean, its floor and substrate matter, and atmosphere
  • Collect data from the ocean using special equipment and techniques
  • Analyze samples, scanning for organic and chemical components and anomalous material
  • Examine quantity and quality of materials such as metals that are present in ocean water
  • Use mathematical models to perform simulations of oceanic events both historic and future and their impact on the ocean's chemistry
  • Use laboratory and field data to research hypotheses and make further predictions
  • Interpret sample, measurement and remote sensory information including sediment traps
  • Attend professional conferences
  • Perform research at sea
  • Submit proposals to obtain research funding
  • Create reports and papers on research activities and observations
  • Lecture to university classes and students in the field
  • Interpret and corroborate different data streams using advanced statistical methods.
  • Manipulate sizeable data sets from various formats and sources
  • Monitor operations data from profile and vessel-, mooring-, and bottom-mounted chemical, pressure, and other oceanographic sensors
  • Maintain and repair devices such as Doppler velocimeters (ADV) and tide gauges
  • Ensure the operation of wave gauges, optical and chemical sensors, water-column profilers
  • Co-author publications for peer review
  • Present scientific results of research at scientific meetings.

Senior chemical oceanographers may find the managerial or team lead role appealing after years of experience as part of a team. Individuals who have suitable professional experience as well as a clear sense of leadership may find their expanded role a refreshing challenge. In addition to ordinary tasks, lead chemical oceanographers may have the following duties:

  • Provide scientific understanding about natural resource conditions and their impact on the oceans
  • Deploy large-scale investigations using multi-disciplinary teams
  • Provide relevant information regarding the environment; natural resources, and the impact of climate change
  • Troubleshoot technical or research problems with team members
  • Use expertise in chemical oceanography to inform executive strategy
  • Serve as a liaison between research team and clients
  • Convey information regarding scientific research, funding and publication decisions
  • Consider product development opportunities
  • Represent and advocate for the health and well-being of the ocean as a whole
  • Analyze complicated end-user data sets
  • Assist clients with data processing and analysis
  • Test new instruments in cooperation with R&D companies
  • Provide feedback to ensure that instrument design delivers the highest quality data possible
  • Provide feedback and approval on technical reports and scientific papers
  • Train junior team members on their role in the lab and at sea

What Is the Job Demand for Chemical Oceanographers?

Demand for geoscientists is expected to grow by 7% between 2020 and 20330. This is faster than most other industries. However, most of this demand is likely to be towards geologists as petrochemical companies continue prospecting for fossil fuels. There may be work for oceanographers here, especially with their specialization in chemistry, but it could prove particularly competitive.*

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What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Chemical Oceanographer?

Chemical Oceanographers will typically start with a hard science degree. Chemistry is ideal, and math and biology should form a large part of your minors and elective choices. The key is to ensure that you get a good grounding in degree-level science. Statistics would also be very helpful. Although scientific openings will be open to you, you will need the specialization of a master's degree in order to improve your competitiveness. If you want to become an ocean scientist of any kind, you will certainly need an advanced degree. PhDs are vital for research projects and high-level education such as university lecturing. For those who prefer a research science career, you will need professional certification.

Chemical Oceanography - Related Degrees

What Kind Of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Chemical Oceanographers Have?

Professional choices for Chemical Oceanography is limited due to the size of the niche, but the following are useful resources and research centers:

  • Bigelow Lab for Ocean Science: Their mission is to investigate the microbes of life (biological and chemical) that make up the oceans and influence the ecology of ocean bodies. They were founded in 1974 as a private research organization.
  • NAVO: Naval Oceanographic Office is a military organization providing service and support to the navy and other areas of DoD that may require oceanographic data. They began in 1830
  • MBL: Marine Biological Lab researches many elements of marine biology, including the chemical makeup of the oceans. In the 1960s, they received a Nobel Prize for Chemistry

*2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for geoscientists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.