Oceanographic programs can be viewed as consisting of two kinds of activities: basic science-oriented activities, and applied, or mission-oriented activities.
Basic science activities are those whose primary goal, as viewed by both scientists and sponsoring agencies, is the advancement of ocean science as a field of knowledge. Their purpose is to increase understanding of oceanic phenomena in physical, chemical, geological, or biological terms. The great hypotheses or theories about which such programs cluster are concerned with such questions as how the continents and ocean basins developed, how the oceans were filled, why and how life began in the sea and why it has evolved there as it has, and how the oceans, the atmosphere, and the hydrologic cycle interact to create weather, climate, and ocean currents.
In contrast, applied oceanography is more closely identified with the application of principles and concepts to a specific and generally limited problem.