How Much Does a Physical Oceanographer Get Paid?

Physical oceanographers may study how waves can generate electricity.
Physical oceanographers may study how waves can generate electricity. (Image: Images)

The oceans cover around 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. Physical oceanographers study how and why they move as they do. They investigate the processes of waves and tides, the interaction between the wind and the sea, saline concentrations and the circulation of currents. Physical oceanographers often work alongside their colleagues in the subject, geological and chemical oceanographers. They usually conduct field analysis, laboratory experiments and theoretical investigations. Pay levels for the role vary depending on factors such as location and employment type.

Average Pay

For its 2010 national employment survey, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics grouped physical oceanographers along with their geoscientists and hydrologists, including those studying freshwater. The bureau calculated that the average annual salary across the profession was $79,280. This means an average monthly wage of $6,607 and an hourly rate of $38.11.

Pay by Industry

Most oceanographers work for government agencies. The bureau reports that, across the hydrological science profession, the average salary in federal government branches was $82,900. Wage levels in state governments averaged $66,320, while positions at local government level offered salaries of $71,720. An oceanographer may also find work as a consultant, for which the average salary was reported to be $82,300, as of May 2010, slightly higher than the average wage level in the architectural, engineering and related services sector, which was $81,760.

Pay by Geography

Wage comparison website analyzed pay rates for physical oceanographers specifically in some large U.S. cities and found wide variations. Houston, Texas, for example, had an average across all industry sectors of $120,543. Orlando, Florida, by contrast, was listed at just $53,809. The bureau listed Virginia and California as among the most lucrative states for hydrological scientists to work in, averaging $126,010 and $92,950, respectively, while North Carolina was reported at $85,310.


Predictions by the Bureau of Labor Statistics put employment growth for hydrologists and geoscientists of all kinds, including physical oceanographers, at around 18 percent through 2018. This is a faster growth rate than for the country as a whole across all professions, which is expected to be between 7 and 13 percent. Physical oceanographers will be in demand as more of the population moves to coastal areas, which are environmentally sensitive. They will be needed to ensure the human population does not impact detrimentally on the coast, and to assess the risks of oceanographic hazards, such as erosion, floods and hurricanes. As a result, pay levels should remain attractive.

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