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Geophysicists study the Earth by measuring responses to different types of sound and electromagnetic energy. They study the physical structure and behavior of the Earth including such things as earthquakes, fault lines and volcanoes. They use scientific instruments to measure the electrical fields, gravity fields, or sound waves traveling through the Earth. They also develop theories about the slow flow of rocks and earth plates over geological time.

Geophysicists work in a natural environment to study the criteria for human habitation of the earth. Using the principles of physics, mathematics and geology, geophysicists study the water, surface and internal composition of the Earth. Geophysicists usually specialize in one of three areas: petroleum exploration, mineral exploration and the environment. Petroleum exploration geophysicists study and interpret information on sediments, mineral and rock compositions and geologic structure to determine where oil and gas deposits are most likely to be found. They obtain their data and research from seismic operations and occasionally, from gravity, magnetic or satellite surveys.

Geophysicists involved in mineral exploration often use electrical and electromagnetic techniques to search for ore deposits. They find precious sources of minerals, such as limestone and calcium to use for research and the production of medicines and other important products. Environmental geophysicists use electrical and electromagnetic techniques, and other techniques such as ground penetrating radar to evaluate ground water quality. They are concerned with study the environment from a geological point of view, examining the Earth's natural resources including groundwater. Environmental geophysicists are often responsible for all aspects of data acquisition and processing.

Geophysicists usually work with a group of geologists, petroleum engineers, mining engineers and other professionals, and may be responsible for the supervision of a team of other professionals, technologists and support staff. Although geophysicists are scientists, they spend very little time in laboratories doing research, but more time outdoors, doing field research.

Since engineering building projects erected on these natural foundations can be affected by earthquakes, floods, landslides, ground water, volcanic eruptions, and other natural events, it is important that geophysicists work with engineers to study these subsurface behaviors and recommend actions as an initial part of the building process. Geophysicists help geophysical engineers measure, map and image the physical properties of the Earth's crust for economic, safety and environmental reasons. They can also anticipate the impact of harsh climate conditions and other natural disasters on building foundations and take these factors into account when designing them.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
What characteristics does it take to become a geophysicist? First, an interest in geosciences, physics, math and problem solving, coupled with the ability to analyze and synthesize data. Geophysicists have the ability to work well both individually and in a team environment, including supervising the work of technicians and technologists.

Most geophysicists have excellent spatial reasoning abilities, an inquiring mind, initiative, imagination and creativity, excellent decision-making skills, and organizational skills. They should enjoy work that requires precision, developing innovative approaches, and taking charge of situations.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Determine which areas to survey including the appropriate survey methods and parameters
  • Study the physical properties of the Earth, including geological and atmospheric layers
  • Carry out earthquake research and experiments
  • Measure gravity, earthquakes, electrical fields and magnetic fields
  • Estimate the costs of operations for each geophysical project
  • Make arrangements to enter a site area and monitor the activities of seismic and other crews during field operations
  • Use existing computer software or writing programs to process data recorded during geophysical survey operations
  • Study the processed geophysical data and determine the type, shape and location of rock structures underground
  • Develop computer models of the Earth's crust
  • Search for oil, groundwater and mineral deposits
  • Write research papers and reports based on the results of their studies
  • Most geophysicists work in an office environment, compiling and interpreting data collected from the field. Some work for a few months of the year in the field, directing the search for various oil and gas deposits. Mineral exploration and environmental geophysicists may spend a considerable amount of time in the field, sometimes in remote locations. On that note, there is hardly a typical day for a geophysicist since they are constantly moving between the office and field work.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Geophysicists are employed by companies and organizations in the public and private sectors. They can be found working for oil and gas or petroleum companies, mining companies, geophysical data acquisition companies, engineering and environmental consulting companies, data processing companies, financial institutions, universities, research organizations, and various government agencies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Geophysicists usually start their careers in junior positions and, with ongoing training during employment, advance to more senior, supervisory positions. Most job opportunities are in medium and small companies where breadth of knowledge is more important than having a particular specialization. The same is true of jobs in the geotechnical-environmental field. Experienced geophysicists may move into private consulting or advance to management positions.

  Educational Paths  
The minimum education requirement for geophysicists is an undergraduate honors degree in geophysics or a related geoscience with courses in geophysics, electronics, physics, chemistry, geology, mathematics and computer science. Those interested in doing research and conducting field work projects will require a master's degree or a PhD for teaching geophysics in universities. Many employers provide additional training in the specialized techniques of oil and gas or mineral exploration.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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