An Introduction to Oceanography

With Hannah Whitby


The more we learn about oceanography, the more questions we have. I love oceanography because it is one of the only truly unknown frontiers we have left. There is still so much to learn and so much to explore. Science is continually advancing at a magnificent pace, but it is surprising how little we really know about what happens in our own oceans.

The life of an oceanographer is varied and often involves lots of travelling and field work. We are driven by a desire to discover and to understand. We collect information, perform experiments, analyse masses of data and model theoretical scenarios to work out anything and everything we can, such as: where do water masses sink? Why do icebergs travel at 90◦ to the wind? Why do some regions of the ocean have plenty of sunlight and nutrients, but hardly anything grows?

Oceanography brings together experts from all disciplines, from ecology and chemistry, to computing and engineering. Around 40% of the world’s population live within 100km of the sea; the oceans support 20% of our global protein source. We rely on the oceans heavily, from energy and fisheries to transport and ecotourism. Understanding more about tsunamis, tropical cyclones and oil spills will help to prevent, or recover, from major disasters more effectively. The oceans are a potentially infinite source of energy, food and wealth – but we must also learn how to manage them effectively, exploiting their riches sustainably.


Every bit of research helps us to piece together the bigger picture. To understand the biology, we need to understand the chemistry and the physics. Everything in the ocean is linked; temperature, oxygen, sediments, currents, life. How hot is the water from a hydrothermal vent? What causes coral reef bleaching? How long do turtles live? How old is Pacific bottom water? Many questions have been answered; others are the topics of current oceanographic research; many, many more remain to be asked.

This year I will teach a brand new course with Continuing Education that aims to describe our journey of ocean exploration, from the early days to current cutting-edge research. The course will discuss the life of an oceanographer, the main questions that have been asked over the years, and how we go about finding the answers.

Hannah will be teaching a brand new course this October Introduction to Oceanography for 5 weeks from Wednesday 7 October. If you would like to read more about this course please click here Introduction to Oceanography