Three-quarters of the earth is water, so maybe someone should keep an eye on it.
Unless you live on the coast or are Aquaman, chances are you don't think about the ocean very much. While understandable, it's unfortunate. Our planet is mostly ocean, and what happens there affects everyone. From the terror of steadily rising sea levels to the effects of currents on the climate, there are many ways that the briny deep influences us dry-landers.
You're probably thinking, "I like whales, so this is clearly for me!" Not so fast, Aquakid. First off, everyone likes whales. They're awesome. Secondly, oceanography is less about the living things in the ocean. It's more about the ocean itself. To oceanographers, seeing a whale is more about waiting for that giant thing to get out of the way so you can get back to tracing sediment patterns.
That's right. You're more about how currents behave, underwater geography, and the chemical makeup of seawater…not fish. If you want to study fish, you're looking for marine biology. That's the field that approximately 150% of all grade schoolers want to get into. If the thought of studying underwater mountains and the geography of trenches inspires you, look no further.
Oceanography is primarily a pure science. While there are some commercial uses (notably shipping and oil drilling), you're mostly studying the ocean because it's super big and it's…there. When we say "super big," we mean it. The vast majority of everything on Earth is under that water, so there really is no shortage of things to look at.
Even if you're mostly interested in sea life, oceanography can still be a good major. While you will not be as specialized as those people who try to talk to sharks (turns out they can only say "hungry"), there are parts that overlap. Animals and plants live in the ocean, and the environment definitely affects the organisms within it.
Here's a crazy figure: something like 90% of our oxygen comes from microscopic plants called diatoms. Why do we bring this up? Well, because the pollution we're dumping into the ocean can have a bad effect on that. Crazy, right? (You should be nodding.) Oceanographers can have concrete and extremely important effects on the world. Keeping us all from suffocating is one of them.
More extreme weather conditions are on the way as well, and those tend to follow ocean currents. The currents are changing; they're either warming or cooling. Both can have effects on us landlubbers and are yet another important arena in which oceanographers can have a positive effect.
Maybe the sea just calls to you. Maybe you would rather be on a boat right now. What better way get there than to pick a career that works out your sea legs? If it doesn't work out, maybe those pirates are hiring.
Famous People who majored in Oceanography
- G. Michael Purdy, EVP at Columbia University
- Ian Irvine, Australian fantasy author
- K. Megan McArthur (with aerospace engineering), the last U.S. astronaut to make hands-on adjustments to the Hubble Space Telescope
- Matthew England, Professor at the University of New South Wales
- Nicholas P. Fofonoff, former director of the International Project Office for the World Ocean Circulation Experiment
Percentage of US students who major in Oceanography:
Stats obtained from this source.