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Oceanography - the study of the marine environment and its interactions with the earth, the biosphere, and the atmosphere - is motivated by the intellectual desire to understand how the oceans move and how life develops in a salty, cold environment, and by the need to use wisely the ocean's resources for the benefit of humanity. Oceanography integrates the basic principles of biology, chemistry, geology, physics, geophysics, mathematics, botany, zoology, meteorology, and geography into scientific research in the marine environment.

Advances in technology for oceanographic instrumentation and research vessels, increasingly sophisticated computers, satellite remote sensing, and innovative methodologies are rapidly opening new possibilities for exploration and study. At the undergraduate level, Oceanography is presented as an integrated interdisciplinary science that prepares students for a broad range of careers. Oceanography partners with other departments to support interdisciplinary minors in Marine Biology, Climate Science and Arctic Studies. Graduate study is specialized into four areas of emphasis: Biological Oceanography, Chemical Oceanography, Physical Oceanography and Marine Geology and Geophysics.