- Work at remote field sites is common.
- Federal, State, and local governments employ 24 percent of
- A master’s degree is usually the minimum educational requirement;
a Ph.D. degree is required for most high-level research and
college teaching positions.
- Although employment of geoscientists is expected to grow more
slowly than average, good job opportunities are expected in
most areas of geoscience.
Geoscientists study the composition, structure, and other
physical aspects of the Earth. With the use of sophisticated instruments
and by analyzing the composition of the earth and water, geoscientists
study the Earth’s geologic past and present. Many geoscientists
are involved in searching for adequate supplies of natural resources
such as groundwater, metals, and petroleum, while others work
closely with environmental and other scientists in preserving
and cleaning up the environment.
Geoscientists usually study, and are subsequently classified
into, one of several closely related fields of geoscience. Geologists
study the composition, processes, and history of the Earth. They
try to find out how rocks were formed and what has happened to
them since their formation. They also study the evolution of life
by analyzing plant and animal fossils. Geophysicists use
the principles of physics, mathematics, and chemistry to study
not only the Earth’s surface, but also its internal composition;
ground and surface waters; atmosphere; oceans; and magnetic, electrical,
and gravitational forces.
Oceanographers use their knowledge of geology and geophysics,
in addition to biology and chemistry, to study the world’s oceans
and coastal waters. They study the motion and circulation of the
ocean waters; the physical and chemical properties of the oceans;
and how these properties affect coastal areas, climate, and weather.
Oceanographers are further broken down according to their
areas of expertise. For example, physical oceanographers
study the tides, waves, currents, temperatures, density, and salinity
of the ocean. They examine the interaction of various forms of
energy, such as light, radar, sound, heat, and wind, with the
sea, in addition to investigating the relationship between the
sea, weather, and climate. Chemical oceanographers study
the distribution of chemical compounds and chemical interactions
that occur in the ocean and on the sea floor. They may investigate
how pollution affects the chemistry of the ocean. Geological
and geophysical oceanographers study the topographic
features and the physical makeup of the ocean floor. Their knowledge
can help companies find oil and gas off coastal waters. (Biological
oceanographers, often called marine biologists, study the
distribution and migration patterns of the many diverse forms
of sea life in the ocean, but because they are considered biological
scientists, they are not covered in this statement on geoscientists.
See the statement on biological scientists elsewhere
in the Handbook.)
Geoscientists can spend a large part of their time in the field,
identifying and examining rocks, studying information collected
by remote sensing instruments in satellites, conducting geological
surveys, constructing field maps, and using instruments to measure
the Earth’s gravity and magnetic field. For example, they often
perform seismic studies, which involve bouncing energy waves off
buried layers of rock, to search for oil and gas or to understand
the structure of the subsurface layers. Seismic signals generated
by an earthquake are used to determine the earthquake’s location
and intensity. In laboratories, geologists and geophysicists examine
the chemical and physical properties of specimens. They study
fossil remains of animal and plant life or experiment with the
flow of water and oil through rocks.
Numerous specialties that further differentiate the type of work
geoscientists do fall under the two major disciplines of geology
and geophysics. For example, petroleum geologists map the
subsurface of the ocean or land as they explore the terrain for
oil and gas deposits. They use sophisticated geophysical instrumentation
and computers to interpret geological information. Engineering
geologists apply geologic principles to the fields of civil
and environmental engineering, offering advice on major construction
projects and assisting in environmental remediation and natural
hazard-reduction projects. Mineralogists analyze and classify
minerals and precious stone as sand, silt, and mud. These sediments
may contain oil, gas, coal, and many other mineral deposits. Paleontologists
study fossils found in geological formations to trace the evolution
of plant and animal life and the geologic history of the Earth.
Stratigraphers examine the formation and layering of rocks
to understand the environment in which they were formed. Volcanologists
investigate volcanoes and volcanic phenomena to try to predict
the potential for future eruptions and hazards to human health
and welfare. Glacial geologists study the physical properties
and movement of glaciers and ice sheets. Geochemists study
the nature and distribution of chemical elements in groundwater
and earth materials.
Geophysicists specialize in areas such as geodesy, seismology,
and magnetic geophysics. Geodesists study the Earth’s size,
shape, gravitational field, tides, polar motion, and rotation.
Seismologists interpret data from seismographs and other
geophysical instruments to detect earthquakes and locate earthquake-related
faults. Geomagnetists measure the Earth’s magnetic field
and use measurements taken over the past few centuries to devise
theoretical models that explain the Earth’s origin. Paleomagnetists
interpret fossil magnetization in rocks and sediments from
the continents and oceans to record the spreading of the sea floor,
the wandering of the continents, and the many reversals of polarity
that the Earth’s magnetic field has undergone through time. Other
geophysicists study atmospheric sciences and space physics. (See
the statement on atmospheric scientists, and physicists and astronomers,
Some geoscientists spend the majority of their time in an office,
but many others divide their time between fieldwork and office
or laboratory work. Work at remote field sites is common. Many
geoscientists, such as volcanologists, often take field trips
that involve physical activity. Geoscientists in the field may
work in warm or cold climates and in all kinds of weather. In
their research, they may dig or chip with a hammer, scoop with
a net, and carry equipment in a backpack. Oceanographers may spend
considerable time at sea on academic research ships. Fieldwork
often requires working long hours. Geologists frequently travel
to remote field sites by helicopter or four-wheel-drive vehicles
and cover large areas on foot. An increasing number of exploration
geologists and geophysicists work in foreign countries, sometimes
in remote areas and under difficult conditions. Travel often is
required to meet with prospective clients or investors.
Geoscientists in research positions with the Federal Government
or in colleges and universities frequently are required to design
programs and write grant proposals in order to continue their
data collection and research. Geoscientists in consulting jobs
face similar pressures to market their skills and write proposals
so that they will have steady work.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A bachelor’s degree is adequate for a few entry-level positions,
but most geoscientists need at least a master’s degree in general
geology or earth science. A master’s degree also is the minimum
educational requirement for most entry-level research positions
in private industry, Federal agencies, and State geological surveys.
A Ph.D. degree is necessary for most high-level research and college
Many colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s or higher degree
in a geoscience. In 2005, more than 100 universities offered accredited
bachelor’s degree programs in geoscience, about 80 universities
had master’s degree programs, and about 60 offered doctoral degree
Traditional geoscience courses emphasizing classical geologic
methods and topics (such as mineralogy, petrology, paleontology,
stratigraphy, and structural geology) are important for all geoscientists.
Persons studying physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, engineering,
or computer science may also qualify for some geoscience positions
if their course work includes study in geology or natural sciences.
Computer skills are essential for prospective geoscientists;
students who have experience with computer modeling, data analysis
and integration, digital mapping, remote sensing, and geographic
information systems will be the most prepared entering the job
market. A knowledge of the Global Information System (GIS) and
Global Positioning System (GPS)—a locator system that uses satellites—has
also become essential. Some employers seek applicants with field
experience, so a summer internship may be beneficial to prospective
Geoscientists must have excellent interpersonal skills, because
they usually work as part of a team with other geoscientists and
with environmental scientists, engineers, and technicians. Strong
oral and written communication skills also are important, because
writing technical reports and research proposals, as well as communicating
research results to others, are important aspects of the work.
Because many jobs require foreign travel, knowledge of a second
language is becoming an important attribute to employers. Geoscientists
must be inquisitive, be able to think logically, and be capable
of complex analytical thinking, including spatial visualization
and the ability to develop comprehensive conclusions often from
sparse data. Those involved in fieldwork must have physical stamina.
Geoscientists often begin their careers in field exploration
or as research assistants or technicians in laboratories or offices.
They are given more difficult assignments as they gain experience.
Eventually, they may be promoted to project leader, program manager,
or some other management or research position.
Geoscientists held about 28,000 jobs in 2004. Many more individuals
held geoscience faculty positions in colleges and universities,
but they are classified as college and university faculty. (See
the statement on teachers—postsecondary elsewhere in the Handbook.)
About 25 percent of geoscientists were employed in architectural,
engineering, and related services, and 20 percent worked for oil
and gas extraction companies. In 2004, State agencies such as
State geological surveys and State departments of conservation
employed about 3,600 geoscientists. Another 2,900 worked for the
Federal Government, including geologists, geophysicists, and oceanographers,
mostly within the U.S. Department of the Interior for the U.S.
Geological Survey (USGS) and within the U.S. Department of Defense.
About 5 percent of geoscientists were self-employed, most as consultants
to industry or government.
Although employment growth will vary by occupational specialty,
overall employment of geoscientists is expected to grow more slowly
than average for all occupations through 2014. However, due to
the relatively low number of qualified geoscience graduates and
the large number of expected retirements, opportunities are expected
to be good in most areas of geoscience.
Graduates with a master’s degree may have the best opportunities.
Those with a Ph.D. who wish to become college and university faculty
or to do advanced research may face competition. There are few
openings for graduates with only a bachelor’s degree in geoscience,
but these graduates may find excellent opportunities as high school
science teachers. They also can become science technicians, or
enter a wide variety of related occupations.
Few opportunities for geoscientists are expected in Federal and
State Government, mostly because of budgetary constraints at key
agencies, such as the USGS, and the trend among governments toward
contracting out to consulting firms. However, departures of geoscientists
who retire or leave the Government for other reasons will result
in some job openings over the next decade. A small number of new
jobs will result from the need for oceanographers to conduct research
for the military or for Federal agencies such as the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on issues related
to maintaining healthy and productive oceans.
Many geoscientists work in the exploration and production of
oil and gas. Historically, employment of petroleum geologists,
geophysicists, and some other geoscientists has been cyclical
and affected considerably by the price of oil and gas. When prices
were low, oil and gas producers curtailed exploration activities
and laid off geologists. When prices were higher, companies had
the funds and incentive to renew exploration efforts and hire
geoscientists in larger numbers. In recent years, a growing worldwide
demand for oil and gas and for new exploration and recovery techniques—particularly
in deep water and previously inaccessible sites in Alaska and
the Gulf of Mexico—has returned some stability to the petroleum
industry. Growth in this area, though, will be limited due to
increasing efficiencies in finding oil and gas. geoscientists
who speak a foreign language and who are willing to work abroad
should enjoy the best opportunities, as the need for energy, construction
materials, and a broad range of geoscience expertise grows in
Job growth is expected within management, scientific, and technical
consulting services. Demand will be spurred by a continuing emphasis
on the need for energy, environmental protection, responsible
land management, and water-related issues. Management, scientific,
and technical consulting services have increased their hiring
of many geoscientists in recent years due to increased government
contracting, and also in response to demand for professionals
to provide technical assistance and management plans to corporations.
Moreover, many of these workers will be needed to monitor the
quality of the environment, including aquatic ecosystems, issues
related to water conservation, deteriorating coastal environments,
and rising sea levels—all of which will stimulate employment growth
An expected increase in highway building and other infrastructure
projects will be a source of jobs for engineering geologists.
During periods of economic recession, geoscientists may be laid
off. Especially vulnerable to layoffs are those in consulting,
and, to a lesser extent, workers in Government. Employment for
those working in the production of oil and gas, however, will
largely be dictated by the cyclical nature of the energy sector
and changes in government policy.
Median annual earnings of geoscientists were $68,730 in May 2004.
The middle 50 percent earned between $49,260 and $98,380; the
lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,700, the highest 10 percent
more than $130,750.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers,
beginning salary offers in July 2005 for graduates with bachelor’s
degrees in geology and related sciences averaged $39,365 a year.
In 2005, the Federal Government’s average salary for geologists
in managerial, supervisory, and nonsupervisory positions was $83,178
for geologists, $94,836 for geophysicists, and $87,007 for oceanographers.
The petroleum, mineral, and mining industries are vulnerable
to recessions and to changes in oil and gas prices, among other
factors, and usually release workers when exploration and drilling
slow down. Consequently, they offer higher salaries, but less
job security, than other industries.
Many geoscientists work in the petroleum and natural-gas industry,
an industry that also employs numerous other workers whose jobs
deal with the scientific and technical aspects of the exploration
and extraction of petroleum and natural gas. Among these other
workers are engineering technicians, science technicians, petroleum
engineers, surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and surveying
technicians. Also, some physicists, chemists, atmospheric scientists,
biological scientists, and environmental scientists and hydrologists—as
well as mathematicians, computer systems analysts, computer scientists
and database administrators—perform related work both in the exploration
and extraction of petroleum and natural gas and in activities
having to do with the environment.
|Sources of Additional Information
Information on training and career opportunities for geologists
is available from either of the following organizations:
- American Association of Petroleum Geologists, P.O. Box 979,
Tulsa, OK 74101. Internet: http://www.aapg.org/
Information on oceanography and related fields is available from:
Information on obtaining a position as a geologist, geophysicist,
or oceanographer with the Federal Government is available from
the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal
Government’s official employment information system. This resource
for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed
through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/ or through an interactive
voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978)
461-8404. These numbers are not tollfree, and charges may result.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,