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What is Marine Science?

Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye

Marine science commonly is called oceanography. As these names may reveal, this branch of science deals with study of oceans. Professionals in this field often are called marine scientists or oceanographers, but they also may take titles that refer to their specialties. The topics that are covered by marine science can widely vary, including such things as ocean currents, sea floor geology, and the chemical composition of ocean water.

Many people have only a vague understanding of marine science. One common misconception involves the use of the titles such as marine scientist and oceanographer. To a layperson, these may sound very specific. In reality, these titles hardly provide any information about what a person in this field does.

Marine Science includes the study of ocean currents.
Marine Science includes the study of ocean currents.

Marine science is so broad that it would require a lot of space to outline every possible career path. Many of the same components that are studied on land also are studied in the water. Marine biology, marine chemistry, and marine physics are three of the disciplines that fall into the category of oceanography. Within each of these disciplines there are numerous sub-categories in which a professional is likely to specialize. For example, within marine biology, one person could focus on plants while another focuses on microscopic organisms.

A focus on marine plants is one option for someone studying marine science.
A focus on marine plants is one option for someone studying marine science.

In some cases, oceanographers have majored in some type of marine science program. More often than not, however, these professionals majored in more basic programs such as Biology or Earth Sciences. Then, somewhere along the way, they veered off and began to concentrate on oceanography.

People also tend to think that marine scientists carry out most of their duties in or on the water. This is a second misconception. A lot of the work done by such professionals typically is conducted in laboratories. Instead of wet suits and oxygen tanks, their gear commonly is composed of microscopes and computers.

It widely is believed that the oceans affect many components of the natural system of the Earth. For example, oceans have been linked to the global climate. Marine life also is responsible for supporting part of the human food chain. As this is the case, a common objective of marine science is to draw relevance between the oceans and other parts of nature.

Marine science often is treated as a novelty science which commonly results in funding problems: a third misconception. This vast area of science can play a vital role in environmental conservation. It also may be a large contributor in the search for solutions to environmental problems such as global warming.

Discussion Comments


@irontoenail - There have been lots of examples where marine scientists have managed to make a big difference in the world though, through education and technology.

If it weren't for marine scientists we would have much less understanding of climate patterns in general, like El Nina and El Nino which are both influenced by ocean patterns.

Marine science jobs are also responsible for the fact that we haven't quite managed to over-fish the oceans entirely yet. Ocean conservation has a long way to go but there are a lot of good people fighting the good fight.


@MrsPramm - Well, hopefully as marine science research becomes more critical to the functioning of society we will start paying more attention to what they are telling us. But considering the fact that they've been telling us to stop climate change or face the consequences for a while, I suspect we're going to learn the hard way.


I took a geography course at university that was primarily run by an oceanographer and I came away from it with the impression that very little of what they say gets taken seriously by the general public.

It might have been that the professor was a little bit cynical, but he had a lot of examples where people had been told things about how the ocean works and proceeded to ignore all advice. Seawalls were the example that I remember most clearly.

Our professor told us at length what process should be followed if you want to build up a coastal area and stop erosion, but he said that more often than not people will just build a big wall and hope that will stop the water. That's, at best, a temporary measure though.

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    • Marine Science includes the study of ocean currents.
      By: designua
      Marine Science includes the study of ocean currents.
    • A focus on marine plants is one option for someone studying marine science.
      By: Daniel Poloha
      A focus on marine plants is one option for someone studying marine science.