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Sedimentologist


Description

The Grand Canyon is a definite marvel for any sedimentologist. It is a phenomenon of sedimentary rock layers built up over time. Rocks are the most common material on Earth occurring naturally in combinations of one or more minerals. Sedimentology is the study of the origin of sedimentary rocks through description, analysis, classification, modes of occurrence, and theories of genesis. Sedimentologists study the description, classification, and origin of sedimentary rock. They study the processes that result in the formation of sedimentary rocks and apply this knowledge to help locate coal, petroleum and other types of mineral resources. They also look at the properties of sedimentary rocks including luster, cleavage, streak, specific gravity, hardness, and sometimes color to determine the above research.

Sedimentary rocks are composed of sediment particles deposited by wind or water, or organic products of living creatures (fossils), or residues deposited by inorganic chemical processes such as precipitation or evaporation. The study of sedimentary rocks extends back in time to at least the 16th century, thereby making sedimentology one of the oldest geologic disciplines. New discoveries and innovative ideas continue to emerge as sedimentologists use advanced, modern tools to research new areas of rock study that help us understand things like climate change or the location of minerals and petroleum.

Sedimentology focuses on taking observational, chemical, and physical data and using them to develop theories on the origin of sedimentary rocks. They investigate the composition and structure of sedimentary rock masses forming the Earth's crust. They usually study the differences between sedimentary rocks and igneous and metamorphic rocks. They apply their findings to such fields of investigation as causes of formations, breaking down and weathering, chemical composition and forms of deposition of sedimentary rocks, methods of eruption, and origin and causes of sedimentation.

The primary goal of sedimentological fieldwork is to ascertain the manner in which rocks are spatially related to each other, including the geometry of bodies, contact and age relationships, spatial variations in texture or mineralogy within bodies and size variations. Description and identification of rocks in hand samples yields information on mineral assemblage, proportions, and textures.

Some sedimentologists have focused their research on environmental practices. For example, there are many contaminated sediments, primarily in harbors and industrialized segments of rivers and estuaries that contain pollutants that have been depleting our sediment resources. Also, because many contaminants are associated with different sediment types, contaminant distribution is often linked to sediment deposition. Therefore, sedimentologists are looking for ways to face this growing contamination problem.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$36,580
 
Median Salary:
$67,470
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$133,310

  Interests and Skills  
Besides having a love for sedimentary rocks and minerals, sedimentologists 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. Sedimentologists should be able to make quick, logical decisions, adapt from an office environment to a laboratory or field site and be able to supervise and lead others.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Conduct research and analyze the quantity and distribution of sedimentary rocks
  • Examine interactions between minerals and sedimentary rocks and any changes to their chemical makeup that result
  • Classify and identify fossilized life forms and minerals in rocks to assess depositional environments and geological age
  • Explore mining areas to determine the structure and the types of sedimentary rocks that exist
  • Determine the most suitable means of safely extracting ore and sedimentary minerals
  • Assess the size, orientation and composition of rocks and hydrocarbon deposits
  • Collect and analyze rock samples in sedimentological surveys
  • Consult with scientists and engineers about mineral and rock projects
  • Write reports and present papers to help plan environmental programs and resource management
  • Use computers to integrate and interpret data sets of geological information
  • Sedimentologists spend the majority of their working time in the field, collecting data, and analyzing rock and mineral samples. There is some time spent in the lab, but this is a field for people who like to work outdoors. Travel can be quite extensive and foreign, particularly since much of the new rock exploration work is happening overseas. Those working for the government will generally work standard hours, however sedimentologists in private companies and in environmental management will find themselves working long hours, which may include weekend emergency work.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Sedimentologists work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed by rock research and mining companies, geochemical companies, petroleum and oil companies, and geology, geophysics and engineering consulting firms. Some sedimentologists are self-employed and own their own research and consulting businesses. In the public sector they work for all levels of the government and also teach at postsecondary institutions.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced sedimentologists may decide to set up their own consulting businesses or partner up with geological and metallurgical engineers and open up a large consulting firm that specializes in rocks, mining, metals and other gems. They can also become business analysts, engineers, move into a new specialty area of geology or become teachers at postsecondary institutions with further education.
 

  Educational Paths  
The minimum education requirement for sedimentologists is a Bachelor of Science (BS) honors degree in geology. A master's or doctoral degree in sedimentology or petrology may be required for employment as a postsecondary instructor or full-time academic researcher. Before choosing a university, make sure the school's geology department has classes with a good selection of courses in sedimentology. Another idea is to volunteer doing geology work in a mine, or visiting a research site -- one of the best things you can do to try and see yourself in that role.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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