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What is Oceanography?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 21, 2024
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Oceanography, also called oceanology or marine science, is a huge science considered a branch of the Earth sciences. Oceanography is an interdisciplinary science that uses insights from biology, chemistry, geology, meteorology, and physics to analyze ocean currents, marine ecosystems, ocean storms, waves, ocean plate tectonics, and features of the ocean floor, including exotic biomes such as cold seeps and hydrothermal vents. Modern oceanography began in the 1760s with science-minded explorers such as British James Cook and the French Antoine de Bougainville, who included oceanographic observations in reports of their journeys.

Oceanography is divided into four general categories: biological oceanography (marine oceanography), the study of marine biota and their interactions; chemical oceanography (marine chemistry), which studies the chemistry of the oceans, both past and present, and the way it interacts with the atmosphere and the carbon cycle; geological oceanography (marine geology), which studies the gelological makeup of the ocean floor, including the motion and interaction of various oceanic tectonic plates; and physical oceanography (marine physics), studying the physics of the oceans, including the complex ways that light, sound, and radio waves traverse the ocean. Oceanography is also heavily used in ocean engineering, commercial or scientific ventures involving the construction of oil platforms, ships, harbors, and maybe in the future, floating cities.

Many of the important initial discoveries in oceanography occurred in the mid-19th century. The first modern sounding (exploration with reflecting sound waves) of the deep ocean was conducted by Sir James Clark Ross. Charles Darwin, famous for coming up with the theory of evolution, published some of the first papers on reefs and atolls in the 1830s. The continental shelves, sharp drop-offs usually occurring 80 km (50 mi) offshore worldwide, were discovered in 1850. The presence of continental shelves was eventually used to support theories of continental drift.

Some of the most innovative oceanographical work since WWII has been conducted by deep-sea submersibles, like the famous Alvin, which has been in operation since 1964. Using these submersibles, oceanographers have explored the wreckage of the Titanic, discovered sea floor biomes completely independent of the Sun's light, and reached the lowest point on the Earth's surface, the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench of the west Pacific.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By anon128326 — On Nov 19, 2010

I am studying aquatic environmental science and conservation and one among my core courses is biology so what if i need to undertake marine biology on the future and what should i do.

By LasPampas — On Jul 13, 2010

@anon18617- Choosing to study, or not study, other science classes depends on what branch of marine science you want to pursue.

A biology class will help you if you want to pursue biological oceanography. But a physics class would help if you're interested in physical oceanography.

Once you know what sub-branch of marine science interests you the most, you'll be able to figure out what other science classes to take.

By anon18617 — On Sep 26, 2008

I am studying A'Level and have taken biology as my major subject to study on marine science. I wanted to know whether only biology would be enough to study oceanography or do I need to learn more about other subjects?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
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