Geoscientists seek to find solutions to some of society’s most challenging problems, investigating global cause and effect to contribute to our understanding of the Earth.
Geoscientists are stewards or caretakers of the Earth’s resources and environment, working to understand the natural processes of the Earth and other planets:
- Predicting the behaviour of both Earth and the greater universe;
- Finding supplies of natural resources, including ground water, petroleum and metals;
- Conserving soils and maintaing agricultural productivity;
- Developing natural resources whilst safeguarding the environment;
- Maintaining quality water supplies;
- Reducing human suffering and property loss from natural hazards, such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, landslides, hurricanes and tsunamis;
- Determining geological controls on natural environments and habitats, and predicting the impact of human activities;
- Defining the balance between society’s demand for natural resources and the need to sustain healthy ecosystems;
- Understanding global climate patterns.
Geoscientists provide essential information that is used for solving problems and establishing government policies for resource management, environmental protection, public health, safety and welfare.
Geoscientists act on their curiosity about the Earth and the solar system. Is there life on other planets? What effects will shrinking glaciers have on the oceans and climate? What makes a continent move, a mountain form, a volcano erupt? Why did the dinosaurs become extinct?
The Earth is an outdoor laboratory filled with opportunities to observe Earth processes in action. By applying their knowledge of forces that shape the Earth, geoscientists seek to reconstruct the past and anticipate the future.
What do Geoscientists do?
Geoscientists gather and interpret data about the Earth, using their knowledge to increase the quality of human life through understanding. Their work and career paths vary widely because the geosciences are so diverse – the National Science Foundation considers geology, geophysics, hydrology, oceanography, marine science, atmospheric science, planetary science, meteorology, environmental science and soil science as the major geoscience disciplines.
Some examples include atmospheric scientists, who study weather processes and climate change; environmental geologists, who study the problems associated with pollution and urbanization; geophysicists apply physics principles to study the Earth’s interior, magnetic, electric and gravitational fields; palaeontologists study fossils to understand past life forms; and seismologists study earthquakes to analyse and interpret the structure of the Earth.
Where do Geoscientists work?
Geoscientists may be found sampling the ocean floor, or examining rock specimens from the Moon – but mostly, they’re more down to earth. They can be consultants on engineering and environmental problems, researchers, teachers, writers, editors and museum curators, dividing their time between work in the field, laboratory and office.
As with any profession, the employment outlook for geoscientists varies with the economic climate of the country. However, dwindling energy, mineral and water resources, together with increasing concerns about the environment, present many new challenges that must be faced. According to the National Science Foundation, about 125,000 geoscientists work in the United States alone. Most are employed by industries related to oil and gas, mining and minerals, and water resources, although many are self-employed and consultants, with professional experience across industry, teaching and research.
Salaries for college graduates with bachelor’s degrees start at about $29,000. For those with master’s degrees, they are about $38,000 and $42,000 for PhDs.
A strong interest in science and a good education are the most important elements in becoming a geoscientist, drawing on biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics and engineering. Also a good grounding in English, as a geologist must be able to write and speak clearly.
In choosing a college or university, look at the course listings for departments of geology, geoscience, earth-systems science, or environmental science to identify the geoscience programs that best match your interests. As in any profession, the applicants with the best qualifications get the best jobs. Most professional positions in geosciences require a master’s degree, although a PhD is needed for advancement in college teaching and most high-level research positions.