Oceanography, an offshoot of earth sciences, is the study of oceans. This multidisciplinary field has various branches — physical oceanography, chemical oceanography, geological and biological oceanography. India has about 500 oceanographers, excluding researchers in the industry. NIO has about 150 marine scientists working on various aspects of oceanography. Oceanographers don’t dive (though some may scuba dive in shallow waters, up to 10-15 metres of depth) because of extremely high pressure. Instead, they use special equipment for studies in the deep.
What do they do?
Oceanography is for those intrigued by the sea and nature thereabouts (with the sun and sand thrown in), and for those fascinated by the multitude of life it supports and affects. It’s for those who can make sense of not just the goings-on in and outside the waters but also delve into sea-life for man’s benefit – ie those who can churn out knowledge profitable for the nation (monsoon-related), industry (ships and corrosion) and ordinary folks (treating industrial effluents with marine algae to produce drinking water).
Oceanography is emerging from the shadows for various reasons, including climate change. For you know, oceans have a big role in controlling the climate.
In thinking about oceanographers at work, don’t rustle up images of scuba diving in cobalt-blue water resplendent with nature’s marvellous creations, because all oceanographers do not dive, except some allied experts who plunge into shallow waters.
“This is what we tell people when they say, ‘So, you dive’,” clarifies Virupaxa K Banakar, scientist-G and head - HRD-SAC, National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), which is under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). “We have a marine archaeology division, from where people go for diving.
Moreover, you can dive only in shallow waters, up to a depth of 10-to-15 metres, to study corals, for example. We are concerned with five to seven kilometres of waters, beyond which you cannot go. At 5km depth of water, the pressure is 500 bars. So, for deep-water studies, we send down special equipment.”
Oceanographers use research vessels and other setups to carry out research.
India’s 500-odd oceanographers are involved in such and other assignments in government organisations, national laboratories, universities, and other organisations. They are in agencies like NIO, Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS, Thiruvanthapuram), Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL, near Kochi), National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Chennai), Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Space Applications Centre (SAS, Ahmedabad), National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSA, Hyderabad) and Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (Hyderabad).
Indian oceanographers work as researchers overseas. “A number of our alumni now (hold) senior positions in R&D institutes of this country and abroad. Being a challenging and dedicated area of science, ocean scientists passing from this department are absorbed in institutions like NIO, CESS, NPOL, NIOT, IISc, IIT, SAC, NRSA etc within India and they also find research positions abroad, particularly in Germany and Japan,” adds R Sajeev, head, department of physical oceanography, School of Marine Sciences, Cochin University of Science & Technology.
Banakar says, “Almost all top universities and oceanographic institutions of the world have post-doctoral fellowship (PDF) opportunities for students with doctoral degrees.” In India, every scientific department of the central government such as CSIR, Department of Science and Technology, and Department of Biotechnology provide PDFs (research associateships) for up to three years on application/selection. CSIR also has a Project Assistant Scheme applicable to all its 36 national laboratories, where graduates, postgraduates and PhDs are recruited for up to five years as project assistants and project associates.
Those completing the MTech programme in ocean technology may work in areas of offshore structures and platform, submarine pipeline laying and maintenance, coastal and harbour engineering, ocean surveys, ocean material technology, fish farm engineering, acoustics and coastal area management with GIS, says Sajeev. These skilled candidates are “expected to serve in ONGC, port trusts, Geological Survey of India, central and state R&D institutes plus public/private oceanic and environmental consultancy firms.”
Banakar says, “In addition to the recruitment of junior-level scientists at various national laboratories/institutions such as ours, these days several private companies dealing with marine EIA (environmental impact assessment), offshore drilling etc recruit masters in oceanography.” Private-sector employers could include survey organisations, marine electronics and systems providers as also paint and anticorrosives manufacturers.
. Seaworthy and adventurous
. Observation and analytical skills
. Knowledge of basic sciences
. Inquisitiveness about the functioning of oceans in particular and the earth system in general
. Programming/computing skills
How do I get there?
Study science (preferably with maths) in Class 11 and Class 12. The entry requirements for masters in oceanography vary. Universities ask for bachelors/masters in various disciplines, including geology, marine geology, marine geophysics, etc. or AMIE (Associate Membership of the Institution of Engineers) in specified branches. Candidates need to pass the UGC-CSIR National Eligibility Test (for basic sciences) or the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (for engineering) to enrol for a PhD programme at NIO, Goa.