ceanography is the science of understanding the oceans, how they work, how they came into existence, how they affect our daily lives, the creatures that live in them, and how they may be impacted by changes caused by human influences. Over 70% of the surface of Planet Earth is covered by sea water, hence the name the "Blue Planet". Oceanography is concerned not only with the vast bodies of water named "oceans" such as the Pacific and Atlantic, but all the "edges" of the oceans as well, where the oceans interact with the other components of our planet. These include the coastlines, estuaries, and marshes where fresh water continually enters the oceans; the surface of the ocean where weather is made and dust settles down; and the deep dark cold ocean bottom which has springs of hot water, where chemicals and even lava spews into it from deep down in the earth's crust.
Since the ocean is not always a friendly or convenient place to conduct research, oceanographers have had to develop sophisticated instruments and techniques that allow them to probe the ocean with research vessels, satellites and autonomous vehicles.
Ocean water, in which just about every known element including gold is dissolved, is characteristically salty. It is in continuous motion even at the greatest depths. Oceans sustain life ranging from the largest whales which are bigger than any dinosaurs, to the tiniest one-celled floating plants which harness the energy of sunlight to feed the rest of the creatures, just as plants do on land.
Oceanography and Society are intimately linked: oceans generate weather ranging from cold foggy days to angry tropical hurricanes. Resources such as minerals and energy are brought forth from the oceans, and they provide major highways for international commerce. Oceans are an important source of food, including: fish, shellfish, and even seaweed.
Understanding the biology, chemistry and physics of the oceans is important as well as its history (geology). Most university departments and research institutes are sub-divided into these component sciences. The biological, chemical and physical sciences are described in greater detail under NSF's Ocean Section. The geological sciences are described in greater detail under the Marine Geosciences Section. Most people are trained primarily in one of these "basic" sciences, but the most important characteristic of an oceanographer is to have a good grasp of all these sciences -- because in the ocean environment everything is interconnected.
To find out more about current and future research in the ocean sciences disciplines click on the following links:
Division of Ocean Sciences,
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Room 725, Arlington, Virginia, 22230
Tel: 703.292.8500 | FAX: 703.292.9042| TDD: 800-281-8749
Apr 16, 2004