Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future.
Geoscientists typically do the following:
- Plan and carry out field studies, in which they visit locations to collect samples and conduct surveys
- Analyze aerial photographs, well logs (detailed records of geologic formations found during drilling), rock samples, and other data sources to locate deposits of natural resources and estimate their size
- Conduct laboratory tests on samples collected in the field
- Make geologic maps and charts
- Prepare written scientific reports
- Present their findings to clients, colleagues, and other interested parties
Geoscientists use a wide variety of tools, both simple and complex. During a typical day in the field, they may use a hammer and chisel to collect rock samples and then use ground-penetrating radar equipment to search for oil or minerals. In laboratories, they may use x rays and electron microscopes to determine the chemical and physical composition of rock samples. They may also use remote sensing equipment to collect data, as well as geographic information systems (GIS) and modeling software to analyze the data collected.
Geoscientists often supervise the work of technicians and coordinate work with other scientists, both in the field and in the lab.
Many geoscientists are involved in the search for and development of natural resources, such as petroleum. Others work in environmental protection and preservation, and are involved in projects to clean up and reclaim land. Some specialize in a particular aspect of the Earth, such as its oceans.
The following are examples of types of geoscientists:
Geologists study the materials, processes, and history of the Earth. They investigate how rocks were formed and what has happened to them since their formation. There are subgroups of geologists as well, such as stratigraphers, who study stratified rock, and mineralogists, who study the structure and composition of minerals.
Geochemists use physical and organic chemistry to study the composition of elements found in ground water, such as water from wells or aquifers, and of earth materials, such as rocks and sediment.
Geophysicists use the principles of physics to learn about the Earth’s surface and interior. They also study the properties of Earth’s magnetic, electric, and gravitational fields.
Oceanographers study the motion and circulation of ocean waters; the physical and chemical properties of the oceans; and how these properties affect coastal areas, climate, and weather.
Paleontologists study fossils found in geological formations in order to trace the evolution of plant and animal life and the geologic history of the Earth.
Petroleum geologists explore the Earth for oil and gas deposits. They analyze geological information to identify sites that should be explored. They collect rock and sediment samples from sites through drilling and other methods and test the samples for the presence of oil and gas. They also estimate the size of oil and gas deposits and work to develop sites to extract oil and gas.
Seismologists study earthquakes and related phenomena, such as tsunamis. They use seismographs and other instruments to collect data on these events.
For a more extensive list of geoscientist specialties, visit the American Geosciences Institute.
People with a geoscience background may become postsecondary teachers.