What is a marine scientist?

Definition of Marine Scientist for the layperson, as provided by my friend, hydrodynamicist Sean Kery, of the Society of Naval architects and Marine Engineers.

Someone who uses the Scientific Method to solve technical problems in the Marine Environment.   For the purpose of this discussion we will extend “Marine” to include any body of water.
Recognized specialties in the general area include:
Four Flavors of Oceanography
Physical Oceanography (waves, currents, ocean circulation & climatology)
Marine Meteorology / air sea interaction studies
Hurricane and cyclone studies of all kinds
Chemical Oceanography
Geology and Geophysics (Discovered Plate Tectonics, Beginning to understand what caused that tsunami)
Biological Oceanography (Marine Biologist is a Hollywood term not typically used by serious practitioners.)  Includes Biological aspects of Aquaculture

Ocean Engineering, Many Sub Specialties including:
Beach erosion studies
Oceanographic Engineering (Design, deployment and continuous improvement of offshore data acquisition systems)
Marine Power Engineering
Telemetry of data from the marine environment
Design of all sorts of stuff that works in or near the marine environment.

Naval Architecture, Many Sub Specialties including:
Buoyancy and intact and damaged stability
Cranes, winches and lifting devices of all kinds
Shipboard Hotel layout and outfitting
Marine Engines and ships machinery of all sorts from fresh water makers to ship sewage treatment plants to complex electrical systems.  A ship is a floating city with both mission and hotel functions that must be satisfied with great reliability
Hydrodynamicists including:
Propeller and water Jet experts (A deep specialty that takes years to master the many complexities of)
Maneuvering specialists (Very difficult, very complex)
Ships resistance (How much power will it take to go how fast and how do I shape the hull to get the best fuel economy, CSC has one expert who has been working on this since the summer of 1941 and still makes regular significant contributions)
Ship motions in waves,  This requires a detailed knowledge of ships and also the physical oceanography of ocean wave mechanics and also some expensive software.   ( This is what Sean Kery does)
Dynamic Stability, the prediction of seldom occurring events is a new and rapidly developing specialty area, in response to a number of unusual marine incidents and accidents, such at parametric roll of containerships.   The first ship to encounter this phenomenon crossing the Pacific lost containers over the side who’s cargo value exceeded the value of the ship.

Marine Historians and Underwater Archaeology is a combination of these physical sciences with human history and a very fertile venue for scientific collaboration.

There are probably a lot of specialties missing from this list but it includes the major groupings.

One hears the words Job and Vocation.   A job is something you do to make money.   A vocation is something you are with a passion that transcends the hours of the work day.  Many of the Senior Scientists in Oceanography retire but keep their offices and still work 4 or 5 days a week even though they are no longer getting paid for it.  There is nothing that they enjoy doing more than this fascinating thing that they have devoted their technical careers to.

It does not matter that the world is growing smaller or that there are no more uncharted islands thanks to satellite imaging.  Once you are out of the sight of land, you can’t help wonder about that terra incognito that lies over the horizon.   When you steam for 18 days straight without ever sighting land in the North Pacific you realize just how vast the sea is and how much of it remains unknown.   It is the last easily reachable frontier.

For some of us the ocean is a vast and terrifying place where we would not venture to go.  For others the longing to go out there and explore is an almost physical pain.   Having lived safely through a typhoon in the Pacific, and the edges of a Category 1 Hurricane in the North Atlantic, leaves one with a respect for the power of the ocean that borders on reverence.   Words cannot convey the incredible power of those huge waves.
As an engineer working on the design of ships to go out there and not only survive but to put in a good days work, one feels sense of responsibility for the safety of all aboard.
The Ocean has no feeling or sympathy and we work there at its dubious mercy.   It does not care about cost or schedules, military rank, corporate hierarchy, or national priorities.

Marine Science is mostly a very young scientific field with lots of room for smart hard working people to make a real difference.

Humans reached offshore islands by crossing water as much as 100,000 years ago but the basics of ocean wave mechanics were not studied and understood until the 1940’s and 50’s.
One of the early 1940’s current meters hung on a cable.   The passing water currents turned a propeller that was connected to a precision brass clockwork.   The mechanism dropped metal shot into a container in numbers that were proportional to the speed of the propeller.   There were a number of shot catch containers around the rim so that the person counting the shot pellets by hand, later could figure out the approximate current direction.   By the 1990’s current meters no longer had moving parts and could stay deployed for up to 2 years and return high quality data via satellite link.

Ever since man (women included) has first gone out on the water, there have been casualties and accidents.   Marine Forensics encompasses all of the fields and specialties listed above to try to figure out what happened.   For cases like the Titanic, these casualties brought us changes like the International convention for the safety of life at sea (SOLAS) and the International Ice Patrol.   Recent studies of this most famous marine disaster lead to changes in the rules for the design of ships.  Now in addition to calculating the ships stability and residual buoyancy when partially flooded, it is necessary to show that the hull won’t break up due to the stresses cause by the change in weight distribution for each survivable condition.

Marine Forensics is a new and rapidly developing scientific discipline in its own right, but the legal aspects of investigating marine casualties go back centuries.  It is only in the last 20 years that high powered computer tools make the analysis of these extremely complicated structures possible.

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