Oceanographer or Marine Biologist?

A new article over at Red Orbit tackles the age old question.  The article rightly presents the case but glosses over the fact that sometimes the marine biologist and biological oceanographer are not so easily separated. 

Typically, biological oceanographers concentrate on the ocean system seeking to understand how interactions between life within the pelagic and benthic realm are related to physical and chemical oceanographic processes.  The approach usually tackles ecosystem and global scale questions such as plankton dynamics, surface production, and carbon cycling. 

A marine biologist, concentrates on the organismal physiology, behavior, evolution, and ecology.  The questions often center on individuals, species, and communities.

However, often to understand the ocean system a biological oceanographer will focus on behavior, evolution, ecology, and physiology.  In turn a marine biologist seeks to understand organisms in the greater context of what is occurring in the physical and chemical environment. O’ the gray area runs a muck.

Perhaps the easiest way to tell the two apart is this way…
If you scuba dive, on a small boat, or wading in the intertidal you are probably a marine biologist.
If you are on a large research vessel using CTD’s, trawls, and other equipment over the side of ship you are probably an oceanographer.

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.


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