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What Is the Difference Between Oceanography and Marine Biology?

Though closely connected, marine biology and oceanography are different fields of study.   Marine biology is more concentrated on the living organism while oceanography studies the ocean itself.

Marine biology and related courses mainly focus on marine organisms. Marine biologists study the genetic structure of marine organisms, their habits, and their classifications. Though many people think of fish when they consider the field of marine biology, many different kinds of organisms and animals are studied. While fish is a main area of study in the field, there are other organisms to consider. For instance, marine fungi are alive and thriving in marine ecosystems. There is also an abundance of oceanic plant life like seaweed and seagrasses. Of course there is algae to consider too; that’s right, the green stuff stuck on the bottom of boats. Invertebrates also make up a large part of marine biology study. In fact there’s even a subfield of marine biology called invertebrate zoology that researches things like sea sponges, jellyfish, shellfish, squid, octopi, and starfish. More advanced forms of life live in the sea as well. Reptiles can be found in the ocean and brackish water–reptiles like sea turtles, crocodiles, and sea snakes. Lastly, there are mammals to consider: whales, dolphins, seals, and even otters are studied in the name of marine biology. The study of all of these organisms make up the field of marine biology. If all of this interests you, then you should choose to major in marine biology.

Oceanography is different from marine biology in that its studies are more general. Not only do oceanographers study the oceanic organisms, but all other aspects of the ocean as well. Oceanography is concerned with biology, and also chemistry, geology, and physics. This is not to say that marine biologists aren’t knowledgeable about these things as well. Many times a marine biologist will need to accumulate knowledge of these things in order to better understand a marine organism, but oceanographers use this information to study the ocean as a whole. Oceanographers study things like currents, geophysical fluid dynamics, plate tectonics, and the chemical properties of the ocean. Oceanography is especially relevant now that global warming is becoming a real threat. The oceans will be the first to feel its affects, and oceanography will be the leading area of environmental study–recording the results and finding solutions. This is because oceanography focuses on not only the organism, but also the water. Oceanic studies of the sea floor are also extremely relevant to the times, as earthquakes under the sea yield large waves and can cause tsunamis. So, an oceanographer’s job is not only to learn about the animals, but also about the water and even the sea floor.

Though marine biology and oceanography are technically separate fields, they interweave with each other a lot. Many people use the two terms interchangeably. If someone asserts themselves as a marine biologist, he/she very well may have a large understanding of the physical properties of the water and the ocean’s ecosystems. Even though the two fields have their own areas of specialization, it is quite common for a person to work in both fields.

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