Geologists and geophysicists, often called geoscientists, study the Earth's interior and exterior formations throughout time. While geologists focus on rock formation and physical properties of the Earth's crust that change throughout history, geophysicists use scientific and mathematical principles to study the interior of the Earth as well, the atmosphere, and magnetic and electrical forces, and bodies of water.
Geologists study the Earth’s crust, including its composition, structure and history. As a geologist, you can specialize in Earth dynamics, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics and global change. You can also specialize in Earth systems, such as rocks, water, soil and mineral resources; and in Earth history, such as paleontology. Studying how and why rocks form, and what happens after formation, underlies all specializations.
Geophysicists apply principles of physics, mathematics and chemistry to study the Earth’s surface, its internal composition, oceans, and ground and surface water. Geophysicists also study the Earth’s atmosphere and its magnetic, electrical and gravitational forces. As a geophysicist, you may monitor and predict earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, search for natural resources like water and petroleum, and can even learn how to predict atmospheric and weather conditions.
Geologists and geophysicists undergo similar training. You may be able to find an entry-level job with a bachelor’s degree, usually in Earth science or geoscience. While hundreds of schools offer programs in geology, less offer programs in geophysics. The University of Utah, for example, offers a robust degree program for geologist and geophysicist majors. You not only take core curriculum, but also career-specific classes. The University of Oklahoma offers a similar program, as does the University of Missouri-St. Louis. You’ll study mineralogy, petrology and geology, mathematics, engineering, computer modeling, data analysis, and digital mapping. Earning a master’s degree or Ph.D. will increase your employment opportunities and help you land a teaching or research position.
You’ll have many of the same job duties, whether you work as a geologist or geophysicist. You’ll collect samples from the field, analyze photographs and other data, produce geologic maps and charts, present your findings, and review reports and research conducted by your colleagues and other scientists. You may spend your morning with a hammer and chisel, collecting samples, and your afternoon using sophisticated equipment analyzing your rock samples.
Geoscientists, such as geologists and geophysicists, earn a median yearly salary of $82,500, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Glassdoor, another salary-reporting agency, reports that the national average for geologists is $98,016 and $94,000 for geophysicists. The BLS also reports that the lowest-paid geoscientists earn less than $43,820 and the highest-paid can earn more than $160,910. Geoscientists who work for the federal government earn an average of $93,300, according to the BLS, while those who provide architectural or engineering services earn an average of $68,790. If you offer management, scientific and technical consulting services, you can expect to earn around $67,840.
- The University of Oklahoma School of Geology and Geophysics: What is Geology and Geophysics?
- The University of Utah Department of Geology and Geophysics: Geology and Geophysics Fact Sheet
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Geoscientists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Geoscientists Do
- University of Missouri-St. Louis: Geologists and Geophysicists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Geoscientist
- Glassdoor.com: Geologist Salaries
- Glassdoor.com: Geophysicist Salaries
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.