Prospecting Geologist

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Prospecting Geologist


From the gold rush craze to the present day, there have been numerous prospectors searching high and low for rocks, minerals and precious gems. Yet, the difference between the run-of-the-mill gold seeker and the prospecting geologist is quite immense. Prospecting geologists are scientifically trained in earth sciences to find geological wonders. They explore specific regions to discover valuable mineral deposits using topographical maps, surveys, reports, and knowledge of geology and mineralogy. They collect data on rock formations using geophysical instruments and devices, such as Geiger counters and electronic sounding equipment, and determine feasibility of staking and developing a claim.

The primary purpose of the prospecting geologist is to quickly and cost-effectively locate all outcropping mineralization within a given area, and to be able to understand areas of non-outcropping mineralization. If significant mineralization is located, a prospector should then decide upon methods of sampling necessary to assess and expand the identified mineralized zones.

When a prospecting geologist sets out on a prospecting assignment they must be well prepared, as they are usually trekking in remote and often harsh environmental conditions. They need the proper hammer selection, including a rock pick or a traditional blacksmith's hammer for chiselling rocks, when taking samples. Other sampling equipment they might bring along include a gold pan, metal sample tags, nails, a weatherproof notebook, clipboard, maps and safety gear.

Some prospecting geologists may act as quality control advisors in mines, working to ensure that mines produce quality ore. In a coal mine, for example, geologists go underground and interpret the structure of the coal, by measuring the faults and angles of the rock. Once they extract the data, they produce a series of maps and plans, and help plan the mine. They may also troubleshoot any potential hazards, which may involve more mapping.

Once they become established prospectors, most geologists specialize in a specific type of rock, mineral or precious metal. Many prospectors are blinded by the value of gold; yet, these specialists are experts within their area of mining geology and build themselves a reputation for a particular mineral within the mine geology field.

Back in the office, mine geologists may use computer-aided design (CAD) systems to study mining operations and design maps for extracting ores.
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  Interests and Skills  
Besides loving to search for valuable rocks and minerals, prospecting geologists must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills because they constantly deal with technicians, engineers and business clients. They should have a natural aptitude for mathematics and science (especially chemistry and physics) and be able to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings, which is not an easy task. Prospecting geologists should be able to make quick, logical decisions, adapt from an office environment to a laboratory or mine site and be able to supervise and lead others.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Conduct preliminary surveys and studies of ore and mineral deposits to ascertain the economical and environmental feasibility of potential mining operations
  • Cover all the outcropping ground, break lots of rock
  • Explore mining areas to determine the structure and the types of rocks or minerals that exist
  • Study rock cores, cuttings and samples
  • Walk the creeks and use a gold pan to test the smaller tributary streams
  • Examine slopes, ridges and bluffs, any anomalous topography
  • Use the theory of the path of most resistance as a good way to make new discoveries, particularly in old mining camps
  • In old mining camps, follow the prospector's trails, they usually lead to showings
  • Determine the most suitable means of safely extracting ore and minerals
  • Recognize oxidization, leaching and enrichment
  • Expose fresh mineralization by hand trenching
  • Sample across true width at measured intervals
  • Make detailed maps and notes for surveys
  • Photograph sample locations
  • Prospecting geologists split their time between office work and working in the field. Usually, the latter is the first step in a prospecting operation and when geologists have extracted all of the relevant materials and information needed, they go into the office and draw maps and write reports about the quality of ore and the best possible and economic methods of extraction. In the office, the hours are fairly standard, however, when working in the field, hours may be much longer, starting very early in the morning. Many mines and ore deposits are located in remote locations, therefore strange and long travel may be involved.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Prospecting geologists often work where mineral deposits are located -- commonly near small isolated communities. However, prospecting geologists can also commute from a city by plane to the site. Also, those engaged in research, design, management, or consulting may work in metropolitan areas. Prospecting geologists are most commonly employed by mining, metal, non-metal and coal companies, governments, equipment manufacturers, consulting companies, engineering contractors, research facilities and universities.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced prospecting geologists may decide set up their own consulting businesses or partner up with geological and metallurgical engineers and open up a large consulting firm that specializes in mining, metals and other gems. They can also become business mining analysts, petrologists, mineralogists, engineers, or become teachers at postsecondary institutions with further education.

  Educational Paths  
The minimum education requirement for prospecting geologists is an honors bachelor's degree in geology. A master's or PhD degree in mine geology may be required for employment as a postsecondary instructor or geological researcher and quality control expert. Prospecting geologists are eligible for professional registration as a geologist following graduation from an accredited educational program and after several years of supervised work experience and, in some areas, after passing a professional practice examination.

Before choosing a university, make sure the school's geology department has classes with a good selection of courses in prospecting and mining geology. Another idea is to volunteer doing geology work in a mine, or visiting a mine site -- one of the best things you can do to see if you can see yourself in that role.

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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