Seismologist Career Information

A seismologist studies the internal structures and phenomena of the Earth. The best known form of seismology is studying earthquakes and plate movements, called tectonics.

The work environment

Seismology is a mix of academic and field work. The academic work and analysis is done in the typical scientific/academic environment, but in the case of seismologists, there's a large amount of field work, which can involve traveling all over the world.

Field work

These are some of the environments in which a seismologist conducts field studies:

  • Fault line areas and related geological zones: These are areas of major seismological activity. The studies can include working underwater, mapping and studying oceanic phenomena. This work may involve sending robots into marine fault zones, or on land, physical examination of major faults like the San Andreas fault line in California.

  • Earthquake zones: Seismologists often act as investigators after major earthquakes, studying the epicenter of a quake and the effect on landforms. This work acts as a frame of reference for governments in formulating earthquake emergency policies, particularly in Japan and the US West Coast. The studies are also used to update databases like the US Geological Survey, and as professional scientific papers regarding earthquakes.

  • Tsunami zones: Tsunamis are created by movement of materials or continental shelves which displace massive amounts of water. Tsunami waves travel at 600 miles per hour and can even cross the Pacific in a few hours. This is now a high priority area for ongoing study and establishment of warning systems across the Pacific and Indian oceans. Seismologists are involved in assessing risk and reporting to governments on hazard issues for coastal populations.

  • Volcano zones: Seismologists don't usually study volcanoes directly, but volcanoes provide a lot of seismological data, and their expelled materials often provide useful information about magma and other areas of seismological study. 

  • Mining zones and exploration: Seismology data is used to locate and assess areas for mining, oil, and gas purposes.

The academic work

A seismologist's work is primarily study of seismological data, and related geological systems. These studies may be global or regional. Lab work can be a very complex mix of data sources. The seismologist uses sources of information like real time satellite data, seismographic stations, and geological information systems providing data from around the world. A seismologist also spends a lot of time in basic research and analysis, often checking historical records. These records may even be from ancient civilizations, or indirect information regarding like archaeological research which records evidence of major seismic events. These records are used to put together long term pictures of seismic activity.

Wages: Depends on qualifications, type of work, area of specialization, and in some cases consultancies or contracts. Salary bandwidth is from entry level at $40,000 to $140,000.

Hours: Dependent on the nature of the work.

The career environment

The field of seismology is expanding rapidly, driven largely by the commercial areas of employment, although academic careers are a very important component of career options. Career progression is based on qualifications, specializations, and often professional areas of study.