What is a Marine Scientist Called?

Marine science is a broad field. Some scientists study the patterns and currents of the oceans, while others study biological organisms that call the ocean home. What a marine scientist is called will vary based on the specific field they choose to research and understand, according to chemical oceanographer and geochemist David Hastings.

Biological Marine Science

Many people think of marine biology or biological oceanography when they hear the term marine science. 

Marine biologists study the organisms of the ocean and how they interact with each other. They may study exceptionally small organisms, including viruses and bacteria, to the largest organisms, like sharks, manatees, and whales. They study plants, animals, as well as protists such as diatoms. They can study a variety of marine environments, including estuaries, coastlines, and oceans.

David Hastings states that biological oceanography also involves the study of marine organisms. However, with oceanography, there’s a heavier focus on ocean processes rather than individual organisms. They prefer to study populations of animals rather than individuals. While marine biologist typically studies individual organisms, biological oceanographers study larger processes.  They also study how the ocean’s biological, geological, physical, and chemical components impact marine life.

Geological Oceanography

A geological oceanographer is another type of marine scientist. The ocean has some of the same geological features you can find on land but underwater!

This includes volcanoes, canyons, and mountains. The Mariana Trench, for example, is much deeper than Mount Everest is tall; the maximum known depth is over 36,000 feet!

Geological oceanographers study the composition and formation of the ocean floor. They study sediments and how they interact with the environment. They learn more about how the earth was formed and its history’s geological processes.

In addition to studying the world below the waves, some geological oceanographers study the coastline. They study the tides, erosion, and the effects of human habitation in coastal areas, according to David Hastings.

Physical Oceanography

Someone who studies physical oceanography is known as a physical oceanographer. They study why, how, and when ocean water moves. They study the physical properties of the ocean, including the salinity, temperature, and composition of the water itself.

They research how the ocean interacts with the earth’s atmosphere and how it distributes or stores heat.

Physical oceanographers take a big-picture approach to the ocean. They consider the ocean and the relationship between it and geological formations on the seafloor, the coastline, the weather, and the atmosphere.

They use shipboard instruments, buoys that relay information about waves, currents, and water levels, and satellite images in their research. The most advanced technology is used in autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), which travel underwater without input from an operator. 

Physical oceanographers typically work closely with other oceanographers because the ocean’s processes are intricately connected. For example, physical oceanography can reveal aspects of chemical oceanography. The movement of waves can impact marine life, which is important for biological oceanographers.

Chemical Oceanography

David Hastings explains that chemical oceanography can include the study of the chemical composition of the ocean. In addition to water and salt, it contains many different compounds. Virtually all elements exist in the ocean, some at very low concentrations. 

Scientists who study chemical oceanography are called chemical oceanographers. They may also be called marine chemists or marine geochemists.

They often study the sediments of the ocean, chemical compounds found in the ocean, and how pollution affects the ocean and marine life. They can also study how biological, physical, and geological changes impact the chemical composition of the ocean.

David Hastings

David Hastings is a chemical oceanographer and a marine geochemist. He focuses his research on how the earth’s climate has changed throughout time and the abundance of microplastics in the ocean.

He taught marine and environmental science at Eckerd college until his retirement.