Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

MSc Oceanography (1 yrs)

With a multidisciplinary emphasis, this MSc Oceanography masters programme incorporates both taught modules as well as independent research.

Programme Overview

The MSc Oceanography degree is designed primarily for students with no previous specialisation in marine science. For example, if you are a graduate with a degree in biological sciences, chemistry or materials science, physics, maths, environmental science, physical geography or related disciplines. 

The programme includes compulsory introductory modules that provide a foundation in interdisciplinary marine science, along with the opportunity to specialise in particular areas through an option of modules, as well as research project experience with marine scientists at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton (NOCS).

To highlight the specialisations possible through the option modules of the programme, we have developed "pathways" of suggested module choices, which include:

  • Marine Biology and Ecology
  • Physical Oceanography and Climate Dynamics
  • Marine Biogeochemistry
  • Marine Geology and Geophysics
  • Marine Resources and Law

Students can either follow one of these "pathways", or mix options from different pathways, where the timetable allows, to pursue broader interests.

Employment in the marine environmental sector is a common destination for MSc Oceanography graduates, and as the degree is a "conversion" to marine science from "pure" science backgrounds, around one-third of graduates also go on to PhD research in marine sciences.

To Apply

You can apply through the University of Southampton's online postgraduate application system. You can find out more here.


For all enquiries, email mscenq@southampton.ac.uk or telephone +44 (0)23 8059 6043.

Programme leader: Dr Jonathan Copley


The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST).

Programme Structure

The MSc Oceanography degree consists of formal instruction including lectures, practicals, and boat work and an individual research project. The programme concentrates 90 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) credits of study into a full-time one-year programme, which runs from induction in late September to dissertation submission in the following September. For comparison, an undergraduate degree year typically consists of 60 ECTS credits of study, with vacation periods.

During Semester One, all MSc Oceanography students complete a series of introductory modules, which provide a foundation in multidisciplinary marine science. Boat-based practicals in local waters also introduce students to standard measurement and analysis techniques in marine sciences. In addition to these compulsory modules, students also choose two option modules during the first Semester, to develop advanced specialisation in particular areas of marine science.

During Semester Two, students take three option modules to continue their advanced specialisation, and also undertake background study for their research project work. Following the end of Semester Two, all students work full-time on their chosen research project from late May until the deadline for dissertation submission in late September.

Staff at NOCS offer a wide range of project topics in their areas of research, which can involve laboratory work, analysis of existing data sets, and fieldwork. Students can also develop their own ideas for research, in consultation with staff.


Key facts

    • Conversion course especially suitable for graduates who do not have "marine" science degrees
    • Flexible programme allowing you to explore specialist or wider interests
    • Draws on world-class expertise from our marine science research groups
    • Employment in marine environmental sector and PhD research are common destinations for graduates
    • Opportunity to attend research seminars delivered by leading marine scientists
Developing knowledge and skills

Developing knowledge and skills

Useful downloads

Entry requirements

Typical entry requirements

Entry requirements

Graduates in any scientific discipline or maths are eligible to apply for MSc Oceanography, usually with a strong background in one of the following:

  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • A biological science
  • Environmental Science
  • Geology or physical geography

An upper second-class Honours degree is recommended, though students with other backgrounds may be considered. Students without AS-level (or equivalent) mathematics may need to undertake additional individual study for some parts of the course, but will be advised individually at the start of the degree, depending on their option choices.

Selection process:

Intake: 40
Average applicants per place: 2

MSc Oceanography applications are considered throughout the year; eligible UK candidates will be invited to interview at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton.

Visit our International Office website or the NARIC website for further information on qualifications.


Typical course content

MSc Oceanography is only available as a one-year full-time programme.

Year 1

Your choice of modules is determined by your current background and future interests. All MSc Oceanography students take four compulsory "introductory" modules in Semester 1 (SOES6013, SOES6014, SOES6015, SOES6016) to gain a foundation in multidisciplinary marine science, and two option modules from the list below. Semester 1 also currently includes "Masters Boat Week", when students undertake boat-based practical work in local waters.

In Semester 2, students select three option modules from the list below, currently delivered as short-intensive courses, which include further laboratory and boat-based practical work where relevant. Over both Semesters, all students also complete a Key Skills module (SOES6018) that develops competencies required for a successful career in marine science, including fieldwork techniques, technical writing and science communication, IT and data analysis, and career development.

In total, the taught modules of the MSc degree over both Semesters carry a 60 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) credit-point value, equivalent to two-thirds of the overall degree. From the end of May until late September, all students work full-time on their individual MSc Research Project (SOES6039), which carries a 30 ECTS credit-point value, equivalent to one-third of the overall degree.

To illustrate the specialisations possible through the option modules of the degree, we have developed "pathways" of suggested module choices, as follows:

"Marine Biology and Ecology" pathway

Semester 1: SOES6008 Deep-sea ecology; SOES6009 Zooplankton ecology and processes Semester 2: SOES6020 Structure and dynamics of marine communities; SOES6021 Ecological modelling; SOES6073 Global ocean carbon cycle, ocean acidification and climate

"Physical Oceanography and Climate Dynamics" pathway

Semester 1: SOES6005 Large-scale ocean processes; SOES6027 Introductory remote sensing of the oceans; or SOES6025 Computational data analysis for geophysicists and ocean scientists Semester 2: SOES6006 Climate dynamics; SOES6027 Advanced methods in oceanography; SOES6047 Global climate cycles

"Marine Biogeochemistry" pathway

Semester 1: SOES6007 Biogeochemical cycles in the Earth system; plus any other option module depending on previous background or future interest (e.g. microfossils; sediment dynamics; remote sensing) Semester 2: SOES6023 Environmental radioactivity and radiochemistry; SOES6073 Global ocean carbon cycle, ocean acidification and climate; plus any other option module depending on previous background or future interest (e.g. ecological modelling; global climate cycles)

"Marine Geology and Geophysics" pathway

Semester 1: Any two from SOES6004 Applied and marine geophysics; SOES6011 Applied coastal sediment dynamics; SOES6022 Microfossils, environment and time; SOES6025 Computational data analysis for geophysicists and ocean scientists; SOES6037 Geodynamics and solid Earth geophysics Semester 2: SOES6024 Seafloor exploration and surveying 2; plus any two other option modules depending on previous background or future interest (e.g. environmental radioactivity; global climate cycles)

"Marine Resources and Law" pathway

Semester 1: SOES6056 International maritime and environmental law; plus any other option module depending on previous background or future interest (e.g. deep-sea ecology; applied and marine geophysics) Semester 2: SOES6057 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; plus any two other option modules depending on previous background or future interest (e.g. structure and dynamics of marine communities; seafloor exploration and surveying)

Students do not have to follow the suggestions for a particular pathway, however, and can mix options from different areas, where the timetable allows, to pursue broader interests, for example combining biology and biogeochemistry modules, or geophysics and climate dynamics modules. The "pathways" are only illustrations of frequently chosen areas of specialisation that are possible within the MSc Oceanography degree programme.

Please note: This specification provides a concise summary of the main features of the programme and the learning outcomes that a typical student might reasonably be expected to achieve and demonstrate if s/he takes full advantage of the learning opportunities that are provided. More detailed information can be found in the programme handbook (or other appropriate guide or website).

Learning and teaching


Ocean and Earth Science is strongly committed to providing the very best learning experience to all our students in a friendly and stimulating environment. We are known nationally and internationally for our excellence in teaching, and are continually improving the scope and delivery of our activities.

On arrival at the University, all MSc Oceanography students receive the help and support of core staff involved in delivering the degree programme, who provide academic advice and encouragement throughout the course and beyond, into commercial or academic careers and research opportunities. The degree programme combines a stimulating mix of lectures and practical classes including fieldwork, supported by computer-aided learning and independent study. You will acquire an in-depth understanding of the fundamental principles and modern concepts within your chosen subject, as well as a good personal and transferable skills profile. The modular course structure allows you maximum flexibility for specialisation according to your own interests.

MSc Oceanography students are based at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton (NOCS), which is a collaboration between the University and the Natural Environment Research Council. NOCS hosts one of the world’s largest groups of scientists and engineers devoted to research, teaching, and technology development in ocean and Earth science. Cutting-edge research carried out by academic staff provides direct and enthusiastic input into a challenging and stimulating MSc Oceanography teaching programme, and there is a unique opportunity for students to undertake research projects with scientists working for the Natural Environment Research Council at NOCS.


Career Opportunities