What Geoscientists Do
Petroleum geologists (a type of geoscientist) search for oil and gas deposits that are suitable for commercial extraction.
Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past and present and to predict future events.
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, 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 reports
- Present their findings to varied audiences, including clients and colleagues
Geoscientists study the Earth’s composition, or layers; its structure, which focuses on the properties of rocks; and its processes, such as erosion and volcanic activity. By analyzing rocks, fossils, and other clues, geoscientists are able to create timelines of events in the Earth’s geologic history. They also research changes in its resources to provide guidance in meeting human demands, such as for water, and to predict geological risks and hazards.
Geoscientists use a variety of tools in their work. In the field, they may use a hammer and chisel to collect rock samples or ground-penetrating radar equipment to search for minerals. In laboratories, they may use x-rays and electron microscopes to determine the chemical and physical composition of rock samples. They also may use remote sensing equipment to collect data, as well as geographic information systems (GIS) and modeling software to analyze the data collected.
Geoscientists may supervise the work of technicians and coordinate work with other scientists, both in the field and in the lab.
As geological challenges increase, geoscientists may opt to work as generalists. However, some choose to specialize in a particular aspect of the Earth. The following are examples of types of geoscientists:
Environmental geologists study how consequences of human activity, such as pollution and waste management, affect the quality of the Earth’s air, soil, and water. They also may work to solve problems associated with natural threats, such as flooding and erosion.
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.
Oceanographers study the motion and circulation of ocean waters; the physical and chemical properties of the oceans; and the ways 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 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 extraction sites.
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 (AGI).