Work – What exactly does an oceanographer do? – Business

Hamburg (dpa / tmn) – What does an oceanographer do? Sure – something with water, right? Although in this profession he is less interested in what floats in the water.

Rather, it is an analysis of the physical processes taking place in the sea. How cold or warm is the ocean? How does it move, what are the currents? How high is the salinity and what does all this have to do with the atmosphere by the sea?

Professor Johanna Baehr investigates such questions. In the work journal, the oceanographer who works as climate modeling manager at the University of Hamburg talks about her daily work.

My job just clarified

My job doesn’t mean anything to most people at first. So I have to explain to him. When people hear that my team and I are studying the dynamics of the oceans on a computer using physical methods and that we want to find out what role the oceans play in the climate system, most people find it exciting. For example, it is also about studying the consequences of climate change on sea levels or ocean currents and vice versa.

The results of oceanographic work are important not only for meteorological and climate research, but also for shipping and fishing. For example, the data provides shipping companies with guidance on how to plan routes as safely as possible.

Way to work

The oceans are fascinating to me. And much about oceanography is still unclear. For example, why certain current patterns exist in the sea or how ocean currents change. I like being part of the science community.

Incidentally, I studied physical oceanography in Kiel. Then I went to study in Great Britain for a while, namely Southampton. There I started my doctoral studies, which later I finished in Hamburg. Then I worked for two years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (USA). Since 2009, I have been at the University of Hamburg.

My tasks

My work as a professor at the University of Hamburg is divided into research and teaching. For example, I give lectures or seminars on topics such as ocean physics and climate physics. I also direct students in their own work or take exams.

For example, as part of my research, I am currently working in my working group on the role of the oceans in creating heatwaves – both in the ocean and over land. We are also exploring the question of how to better predict these heat waves.

In our work, we use computer models as instruments with which we simulate the movements of the sea and air based on mathematical equations. The necessary oceanographic survey data often comes from research vessels or from satellite surveys.

As this is not always achieved comprehensively, oceanographers are also working on laboratory experiments. We compare measurement data and simulations, learn from them and, for example, improve our models, which we can then use to make better forecasts for the climate.

What a really good day at work looks like

If I learned something in the morning or discovered something I didn’t know, I call it a good day at work. Or if I find something in the model simulations that fits the theory, I enjoy that sense of achievement. For me, a good working day is a mix of calculating something, writing something – or preparing a lecture – and exchanging ideas with other scientists.


Of course, things don’t always go smoothly. It is often the case that we do not understand the simulation results of the models and the jitter we see in the measurements. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing because that’s what’s so interesting about researching, trying things out, and learning new things.

As unfortunately too common in science, only a small fraction of oceanographers have some jobs. Many of my colleagues have fixed-term employment contracts.

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 220707-99-942471 / 3

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