What is Ocean Science?
Earth has been called “the water planet.” If you look at a map or a photo of the world as seen from space, it is easy to see why. Over 70% of Earth’s surface is covered by ocean.
The ocean is a major “engine” driving our Earth’s dynamic climate system. The ocean affects global climate and weather. Climate and weather affect all life on Earth. For example, climate changesaffect fisheries, agriculture, and energy supplies. We really cannot understand our planet without understanding how the ocean works.
People who study the ocean are called oceanographers. They have been trained in one or more different subjects: mathematics, engineering, biology, chemistry, physics, and geology. They use their knowledge and skills to answer questions about some part of the ocean system and the air above it.
Some oceanographers study the shallow coastal waters near shorelines. Other scientists study processes that occur in deep water. Some oceanographers go to sea to collect samples and data. Other scientists rarely go to sea. Instead, they use data collected from satellites and other remote instruments. Many oceanographers make models of how the ocean works. These oceanographers are all using their specialized knowledge to learn about the ocean.
Some atmospheric scientists study how the ocean interacts with the air above it to affect the Earth’s climate.
Biological oceanographers study the plants, animals, and microbes in the ocean. They study how marine organisms interact with each other and withtheir environment.
Physical oceanographers study the physical characteristics of the ocean. They study ocean currents, waves, tides, and the connections between the ocean and the atmosphere.
Chemical oceanographers study chemicals in oceans, lakes, and rivers. They want to understand how these chemicals interact with plants, animals, bacteria and viruses.
Marine Geologists study the Earth’s crust on the ocean floor and the particles that settle to the seafloor. Just as geologists on land study volcanoes, minerals, mountains, and valleys, marine geologists study these features in the ocean. They want to understand how these features formed, and how they have changed with time.
As you can see, ocean science includes many different subject areas. Each oceanographer “sees” a different part of the ocean through his or her expertise. But the real understanding of the ocean comes when these scientists work together in teams to share their knowledge. They depend upon each other’s research and information. They are all studying ocean science.