Oceanographers Heroes of the Deep Frontier

The Earth is more ocean than earth.  Studying the wide variety of approaches to investigate oceanography is almost as vast and deep as the oceans themselves. In the modern age of climate change, topics as diverse as rising oceans, depleted fish stores, reef conservation, threatened coastal barriers and cetacean behavior are all different aspects of oceanography. 

Oceanography science and careers are also multifaceted.  One can attend university to study sea floor spreading and geology, collect data about fishing and harvesting effects as just another crew member aboard a fishing vessel or, conversely, never leave dry land while studying remote sensing satellite images of oceanic currents. 

To simplify the many types of studies, oceanography is divided into roughly four areas. These are physical oceanography, which studies aspects of currents, shorelines, temperatures and such things as variations in the ocean conveyer belt. Biological oceanography studies all marine life, including mammals and birds. Chemical oceanography studies the dynamic composition of atmosphere, marine layers, the seafloor and all related aspects affecting oceans, such as acidification and pollutants.  Finally, there is geological oceanography, which investigates plate tectonics, sea-floor spreading, marine mounts, volcanoes, deep trenches and much more.  Needless to say, the four types of oceanography overlap in many ways.

Modern oceanography methods are improving every day, and the work is demanding, rewarding and extremely critical. Careers in oceanography are on the rise.  As climate change affects people, climate and marine life worldwide, critical new fields of study are rapidly being developed to meet the demand for knowledge and solutions. Even wave power, desalination and developing improved geothermal energy sources are dependent upon oceanographers taking up new challenges.

Just a few examples of this include the need to continue to collect data about the relationship between ocean warming and increased frequency of severe storms and hurricanes (such as Katrina and Superstorm Sandy), crucial interventions to avoid world starvation and extinctions due to seriously depleted fish stores, the economic implications of rising sea levels, ruined economies and how remote satellite sensing can inform investigations of carbon dioxide, carbon sinks and weather on both land and sea. Also of great urgency is to understand the implications of offshore fossil fuel mining and its effects during spills, but also the subsequent effects of rising CO2, declining species and released methane from ice melt in such places as Greenland and the poles. 

Until quite recently, life was assumed to only form with photosynthesis. Oceanography changed that “fact.”  Biogeochemical events, or chemosynthesis, around marine thermal vents create bacteria that become the foundation for the diverse array of marine life in the oceans. A multitude of sea creatures consume the bacteria. In this way, they even affect atmospheric weather and land geology, too. Warming oceans and their secrets hold important clues to everything from acidification of coral reefs to desertification of land mass. Discoveries such as this display the astonishing interconnected systems of the smallest phytoplankton to the largest deserts on the planet.  

It is oceanographers who inform and enrich these sciences day by day. Oceanographers are aboard to be pioneers of important new frontiers in science, technology and sustainability. Marine biology is still the most popular field of oceanography, yet it is now understood that all the other marine study disciplines are just as vitally important. When it comes to protecting life on Earth, there is no better place to investigate than the untapped ocean of knowledge nature offers in both tsunami waves and gentle lapping froths at the beach.