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Study Oceanography at Otago

Though oceans cover 70% of Earth’s surface, their depths are truly our “last frontier”.

Oceanography will not be available as a new major from 2022.
Existing students enrolled in this major may continue in the subject.
Please see the new interdisciplinary major in Marine Science.

This watery world is so challenging to explore, that we have more detailed maps for the surfaces of the Moon, Mars, and Venus.

Yet understanding our ocean planet is essential for meeting the challenges of our collective future. The physical, biological, chemical, and geological processes that power the Earth system unite in the ocean, determining Earth’s climate, regulating the composition of our atmosphere, supporting human civilisation, and sparking our curiosity.

Otago is uniquely placed to study these interlinked processes and their effects on our lives. The Southern Ocean is on our doorstep, with a wide range of marine environments easily accessible to our research fleet. We work from shallow harbours to the deep ocean, around sub-Antarctic islands and in majestic fiords, alongside temperate coastlines and floating over tropical reefs.

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Why study Oceanography?

Dive into the complex network of physical processes at work in the sea and you will never see Earth the same way again!

Studying Oceanography from the University of Otago will open your eyes to the dynamic chemistry of seawater; the nature of currents, waves and tides; the history of oceans preserved in underwater geology and sediments; the invisible underpinnings of marine life; and the way that all of these processes and systems interact.

We are the only university in New Zealand to offer undergraduate study in Oceanography, and our truly interdisciplinary approach leads to an ocean of opportunities.

Career opportunities

Oceanography will open doors to a diverse array of careers. Oceanography students at Otago develop a broad foundation in all areas of oceanography, with opportunities to concentrate in physical oceanography, biological oceanography, marine geology or marine chemistry. Throughout your programme, you will work with classmates to plan and execute field expeditions, collecting, evaluating, and presenting real-world data.

As an Oceanography graduate, your career path may lead you to:

  • Assess effects of tsunami for a regional council
  • Develop tidal turbines for an alternative energy company
  • Advocate for responsible policy through an NGO
  • Pursue a teaching career at any level
  • Conduct oceanographic and Antarctic research at a university or government agency
  • Explore for petroleum or minerals in the resource industry
  • Track trace metals to see where shellfish come from

Oceanographic research can take you from the poles to the tropics, Antarctica to Rarotonga, from regional councils to government agencies, such as NIWA, GNS, and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Otago graduates have launched their careers in private consultancy firms, within the IT industry, in science communication media (for example, Dunedin's Natural History New Zealand Ltd), and government science policy groups.

Others continue their Marine Science careers within the educational system, through science teaching and community engagement, or university research and teaching positions. Those interested in pursuing postgraduate study may end up working as a research scientist for an oceanographic institute or university anywhere in the world.

Oceanography at Otago

Teaching style

Oceanography is a hands-on discipline.

Apart from attending lectures and tutorials, you will also have practical laboratories and field trips at sea.

The Marine Science department, which offers the Oceanography degree, has research and teaching facilities on the main campus in Dunedin, a major research laboratory at Portobello on the Otago Peninsula, and field stations on Stewart Island and at Doubtful Sound.

A fleet of research vessels, including the expedition vessel RV Polaris II, provides access to coastal and off-shore environments.

Background required

Students with a passion for the marine environment who enjoy the physical sciences and maths will find a natural home in Oceanography. A solid foundation in Physics, Chemistry, and Calculus through Year 13 will prepare you to dive right in to our BSc programme. Earth and Space Science and Geography will also set the stage for your Oceanography degree.


Oceanography as a minor subject for a BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, BAppSc, BCom, BHealSc, BACom, BASc or BComSc degree

No new enrolments will be accepted for this minor subject after 2021

Available as a minor subject for a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Music (MusB), Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA), Bachelor of Theology (BTheol), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Applied Science (BAppSc), Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Bachelor of Health Science (BHealSc), Bachelor of Arts and Commerce (BACom), Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc) or Bachelor of Commerce and Science (BComSc) degree

MARI 112 Global Marine Systems

One of:
COMO 101 Modelling and Computation
MATH 160 Mathematics 1
MATH 170 Mathematics 2




200-levelOCEN 201 Physical Oceanography



OCEN 301 Practical and Field Oceanography

One of:
OCEN 321 Ocean Physics and Modelling
OCEN 322 Biological Oceanography
OCEN 323 Marine Geology and Geophysics
CHEM 304 Environmental Chemistry




Note: Students should check the prerequisites for 300-level papers when selecting 200-level papers.
Total 90

OCEN papers

Paper Code Year Title Points Teaching period
OCEN450 2024 Special Topic: Data Analysis Methods in Marine Science 20 Not offered in 2024

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Department of Marine Science


Studying at Otago

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Regulations on this page are taken from the 2024 Calendar and supplementary material.

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