Geochemist Career Profile

Geochemists do some of the most important analytical work in soil science, mining, environmental science, agriculture and other major industries. This is a branch of geoscience which is growing in importance as technology improves the scope of the geochemist's work.

The Work Environment

Geochemistry is task-based science in the workplace. A geochemist works on specific requirements for analysis. The chemistry of a particular place or area needs to be analyzed for a specific purpose.

This work involves:

Field studies: Field studies provide primary site data. Studies may include  ore sampling, acidity/alkalinity profiling, mineralization studies, and other fundamental information gathering processes. Onsite analyses may or may not be conducted, because detailed analysis is usually done in the lab environment. Site work includes identification of local geochemical issues and study of chemical anomalies. 

In most cases the geochemist, as the expert, has to be on site, because efficient study of areas requires an understanding of geological formations, the geomorphology of the area, and the relationship of these factors to the task at hand. This work, even on a basic level, requires thorough knowledge of all aspects and requirements of the study, and the geochemist is the person best suited to do it.   

Lab studies: The lab work is the primary formal analysis methodology, often derived from field work, using selected site samples. These analyses form the basis of major studies:

  • In the gold industry, the type of ore formation, the gold content per ton of an ore body, and other factors which directly affect the economics of gold mining are studied. A working commercial analysis of the gold deposit is formulated based on cost of mining relative to the recovery rate of gold. The geochemist's work is crucial in establishing facts for these cost-benefit analyses. 
  • In environmental science, the geochemist works both in the field and in the lab to analyze the chemical composition of environmentally sensitive areas like polluted water tables and areas affected by atmospheric pollution. This work requires in many cases core samples to establish a historical profile of the issue, extensive testing of soil and organic materials, and positive identification of pollutants. 

In many cases the geochemist may have to figure out a way of obtaining samples of exotic chemicals and minerals from difficult locations. This work also sometimes includes the difficult tasks of ensuring the chemical integrity of the samples, making sure they're not contaminated when removed from the site. 

Wages: Geochemists are specialist geoscientists, and their wages are in the mid-upper bracket of the profession with a median rate of approximately $100,000. 

Hours: Dependent on the nature and location of the work. 

The Career Environment

Geoscience generally is expanding as a profession. In the US, the expected increase in professional numbers for the next decade is twice the national average at 22 percent. Geochemistry, with its range of new business applications created by environmentalism and demand from the commercial and public sectors, is also growing. Career progression in this field is usually a purely professional progression, although there is now increasing scope for consultancy contracts and commercial service provision outside the traditional lab-based environment.