Geophysicist Career Facts

Geophysicists, as the name suggests study the physical properties of the Earth. Geophysical studies include the Earth's surface and internal structures, waters, oceanography, gravity, weather, and electromagnetic forces.

Career Paths

With such a range of studies, the role of a geophysicist can be very different depending on the nature of the career stream. Geophysicist careers include:

  • Seismology: The study of seismic events like earthquakes and the use of seismological techniques in mining and oil exploration.

  • Oceanography: The study of the ocean's physical properties, oceanic mapping and exploration.

  • Meteorology: Study of weather patterns and analysis of related issues.

  • Geodesy: Literally the study of the Earth as a whole planet. Includes study of rotation, gravitational fields, and other planetary phenomena.

  • Geomagnetists: Study and analysis of the Earth's magnetic fields.

  • Paleomagnetists: Branch of geomagnetic studies dealing with ancient magnetic fields evidence of which is found in rock formations.

  • Atmospheric physics: Study of the atmosphere in terms of its physical properties and dynamics.

  • Interplanetary geophysics: Study of Martian and other solar system planetary surveys.

Work Environment

The work environment in all these fields is to some extent the classic academic or lab workplace, but most geophysicists also have to do a considerable amount of field work, particularly in research studies. Many large scale geophysical systems, regional or bigger, also require extensive sampling, and in some cases leadership and quality control by experts on the spot during studies. (If you're studying any area, there's a series of decisions involved in what you study, where, and how, etc.

Each branch of geophysics also relates to a technical environment which is the professional operational scenario and systems which support the work in the field or lab. Geophysics is one of the two major branches of the geosciences, and the technical environments are good indicators of the nature of the jobs.

For example, the basic technical environment for traditional seismology includes:

  • Real time seismic data from around the world.
  • Archival records of seismic activity.
  • Data from local studies and current research.
  • Computer modeling of earthquake patterns and strengths
  • Map data and plots and identification of earthquake sources
  • Tsunami information, if relevant
  • Satellite data

This is a lot of information, and it's all required for the seismologist to do their job effectively. All forms of geophysics have their own special technical situations. In the case of interplanetary geophysics, the data from all Martian landers is the primary data source for studies of the red planet. That's decade's worth of visual, satellite, and chemical analyses.

Wages: Dependent on specialization, experience, and qualifications.

Hours: Can be extremely variable, particularly in field work.

Career Environment

Geophysicists tend to specialize, which defines the basic career track, but in practice many geophysicists expand their career options by research and refining their specialities into particular areas of study. None of the geophysical sciences are "generic" science. They're all strongly oriented into research and exploration, so this is a form of career progression supported by the nature of the work.

That self driven career motif is also often a major motivator within the geosciences. Geophysics allows considerable freedom for these naturally individualistic career paths and personal professional achievements.