Oceanography is a broad field of research that includes fields of study such as physics, chemistry, biology and geology. Oceanographers utilize their branch of specialization to study the oceans of the world, their biological diversity, chemical composition, structure and formation, among others. Many scientists studying the Earth’s processes on land often have to transition to the study of oceanography, as the ocean greatly influences many global biological, physical and geological processes that affect both the ocean and land. Oceanography is one of the most interdisciplinary sciences, since the understanding of one discipline is necessary to understand the others.
Physical oceanographers study the physical characteristics of the oceans, including tides, currents, waves and the way in which they interact with the atmosphere to affect weather and climate. The study of the physical characteristics of the ocean allow oceanographers to gain an ample understanding of the effects of the ocean on global warming and the changing weather patterns that occur around the world. By studying the ocean circulations, physical oceanographers are able to understand the reasons why certain weather patterns affect some regions of the world and the effects of some phenomena, such as El Niño and La Niña. They may also study how sound and light travel through the ocean.
Chemical oceanographers study the chemical composition of the ocean. They also study the way in which the atmosphere interacts with the ocean at chemistry level. By studying the composition of the ocean, chemical oceanographers are able to estimate the amount of pollutants present at a given region and layer of the ocean and the way in which they affect an ecosystem. Chemical oceanographers may work cooperatively with other scientists, such as biologists to study the way in which salinity levels, nutrients and chemicals affect ocean biodiversity. They may also work with other scientists in the development of techniques to extract valuable mineral compounds from the ocean.
Biological oceanographers study plant and animal life (biodiversity) in the ocean and the way in which this biodiversity interacts with the nutrients, chemical compounds and pollutants present in the ocean environment. Marine biologists may study the lifestyles and migration patterns of certain marine species, from the smallest (plankton) to the largest (whales), to understand the way in which external factors may be affecting them. They may also cooperate with chemical oceanographers to understand how marine pollution and other environmental factors might be affecting marine biodiversity. Some biological oceanographers might do research on aquaculture and techniques on how to harvest food from the ocean.
Geological oceanographers study the geologic features of the ocean floor, its formation and sedimentary composition. Geological oceanographers study the way in which the ocean floor has changed throughout time. They may extract cores from the ocean floor and bring them on board a ship for studying. The study of the ocean floor requires special equipment, including ships, submersibles, extracting machines. The study of sediments in the ocean floor allows geological oceanographers to deduce the oceanic currents, prevailing wind patterns and volcanism activity in the ocean floor. Geological oceanographers work jointly with oil drill companies in the location of oil deposits in the ocean floor.
The study of oceanography includes its flora and fauna, the structure, origin, the nature of the ocean floor and its sediments, and physical characteristics, including salinity, tides and currents. These, along with the influence of human intervention in the ocean, form important aspects of the study of oceanography. Oceanography is a young science; the ocean has been studied from a scientific point of view for less than 200 years. According to divediscover.whoi.edu, the systematic study of the ocean started back in the 19th century, when the Challenger Expedition sailed on a four-year voyage from 1872-1876. The ship’s crew included a group of biologists, chemists, geologists and physicists who collaborated in the gathering of information about the oceans.