You Are At: AllSands Home > Science > Geologists and geophysicists
Geologists and geophysicists study the physical aspects and history of the earth. They analyze information collected through seismic prospecting, which involves bouncing soundwaves off deeply buried rock layers; examine surface rocks and samples of buried rocks recovered by drilling; and study information collected by satellites. They also identify rocks, minerals, and fossils, conduct geological surveys, construct maps, and use instruments such as the gravimeter and magnetometer to measure the earth's gravity and magnetic field. An important application of geological research is locating oil, natural gas, and minerals.

Geologists and geophysicists examine chemical and physical properties of specimens in laboratories under controlled temperature and pressure. They may study fossil remains of animal and plant life or experiment with the flow of water and oil through rocks. Laboratory equipment used includes instruments such s the X-ray diffractometer, which determines the crystal structure of minerals, and the petrographic microscope, used for close study of rock and sediment samples.

Besides locating natural resources and working in laboratories, geologists and geophysicists also advise construction companies and government agencies on the suitability of proposed locations for buildings, dams, or highways. Some administer and manage research and exploration programs.

The fields of geology and geophysics are closely related but there are some major differences. Geologists study the composition, structure, and history of the earth's crust. They try to find out how rocks were formed and what has happened to them since their formation. Geophysicists use the principles of physics and mathematics to study the earth's internal composition, surface, and atmosphere and also various forces such as its magnetic, electrical, and gravitational fields.

Geologists and geophysicists usually specialize. Geological oceanographers study the ocean bottom. They collect information using remote sensing devices aboard ships or sometimes from underwater research craft. Physical oceanographers study the physical aspects of oceans such as their currents and their interaction with the atmosphere. Geochemical oceanographers study the chemical composition, dissolved elements, and
nutrients of oceans. Although biological scientists who study ocean life sometimes are called oceanographers (as well as marine biologists), the work they do is related to biology rather than geology or geophysics.

Hydrologists study the distribution, circulation, and physical properties of underground and surface waters. They may study the form and intensity of precipitation, its rate of infiltration into the soil, and its return to the ocean and atmosphere. Mineralogists analyze and classify minerals and precious stones according to composition and structure. Paleontologists study fossils found in geological formations to trace the evolution of plant and animal life. Seismologists interpret data from seismographs and other instruments that measure small movements of the earth to locate earthquakes and earthquake faults. Stratigraphers study the distribution and arrangement of sedimentary rock layers by examining their fossil and mineral content. Meteorologists sometimes are classified as geophysical scientists.

Most geologists and geophysicists divide their time between fieldwork and office or laboratory work. While in the field, geologists often travel to remote sites by helicopter or jeep and cover large areas by foot. Exploration geologists and geophysicists often work overseas or in remote areas, and geological and physical oceanographers may spend considerable time at sea. When not working outdoors, geologists are in offices and
laboratories.

Geologists and geophysicists also work for nonprofit research institutions and museums. Some are employed by American firms overseas for varying periods of time.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

A bachelor's degree in geology or geophysics is adequate for entry into some lower level geology jobs, but better jobs with good advancement potential usually require at least a master's degree in geology or geophysics. Persons with strong backgrounds in physics, mathematics, or computer science also may qualify for some geophysics jobs. A Ph. D. degree is essential for most research positions.

Over 500 colleges and universities offer a bachelor's degree in geology or geophysics. Other programs offering training for beginning geophysicists include geophysical technology, geophysical engineering, geophysical prospecting, engineering geology, petroleum geology, and geodesy. In addition, more than 270 universities award advanced degrees in geology or geophysics.

Geologists and geophysicists need to be able to work as part of a team. They should be curious, analytical, and able to communicate effectively. Those involved in fieldwork must have physical stamina.

Geologists and geophysicists usually begin their careers in field exploration or as research assistants in laboratories. They are given more difficult assignments as they gain experience. Eventually they may be promoted to project leader, program manager, or other management and research positions.

This industry has greatly reduced exploration activities because of the recent drop in the price of oil. Furthermore, even with little employment growth, many openings will arise each year to replace geologists and geophysicists who transfer to other occupations or leave the occupation for other reasons.

Geologists and geophysicists who have knowledge and experience in geophysical oil and gas exploration techniques will have better employment opportunities than others. Also, more geologists, especially those with advanced degrees, will be needed to conduct environmentally related research.

Many geologists and geophysicists work in the petroleum and natural gas industry. This industry also employs many other workers who are involved in the scientific and technical aspects of petroleum and natural gas exploration and extraction, including drafters, engineering technicians, science technicians, petroleum engineers, and surveyors. Also related to the work of geologists and geophysicists are other physical science occupations such as physicists, chemists, and meteorologists, as well as mathematicians, computer scientists, and cartographers.