Geoscientists

Summary

geoscientists image
Geoscientists often work outdoors, sometimes in remote areas and in both warm and cold climates.
Quick Facts: Geoscientists
2014 Median Pay $89,910 per year
$43.22 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 36,400
Job Outlook, 2014-24 10% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 3,800

What Geoscientists Do

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future.

Work Environment

Most geoscientists split their time between working in offices and laboratories, and working outdoors. Doing research and investigations outdoors is commonly called fieldwork and can require irregular working hours and extensive travel to remote locations.

How to Become a Geoscientist

Most geoscientist jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree. In several states, geoscientists may need a license to offer their services to the public.

Pay

The median annual wage for geoscientists was $89,910 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of geoscientists is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. The need for energy, environmental protection, and responsible land and resource management is projected to spur demand for geoscientists in the future.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for geoscientists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of geoscientists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about geoscientists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Geoscientists Do

Geoscientists
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, present, and future.

Duties

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, well logs (detailed records of geologic formations found during drilling), 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 scientific reports
  • Present their findings to clients, colleagues, and other interested parties
  • Review reports and research done by other scientists

Geoscientists use a wide variety of tools, both simple and complex. During a typical day in the field, they may use a hammer and chisel to collect rock samples and then use ground-penetrating radar equipment to search for oil or minerals. In laboratories, they may use x rays and electron microscopes to determine the chemical and physical composition of rock samples. They may also use remote sensing equipment to collect data, as well as geographic information systems (GIS) and modeling software to analyze the data collected.

Geoscientists often supervise the work of technicians and coordinate work with other scientists, both in the field and in the lab.

Many geoscientists are involved in the search for and development of natural resources, such as petroleum. Others work in environmental protection and preservation, and are involved in projects to clean up and reclaim land. Some specialize in a particular aspect of the Earth, such as its oceans.

The following are examples of types of geoscientists:

Engineering geologists apply geologic principles to civil and environmental engineering. They offer advice on major construction projects and help with other projects, such as environmental cleanup and reducing natural hazards.

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.

Geochemists use physical and organic chemistry to study the composition of elements found in ground water, such as water from wells or aquifers, and of earth materials, such as rocks and sediment.

Geophysicists use the principles of physics to learn about the Earth’s surface and interior. They also study the properties of Earth’s magnetic, electric, and gravitational fields.

Oceanographers study the motion and circulation of ocean waters; the physical and chemical properties of the oceans; and how 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 explore the Earth for oil and gas deposits. They analyze geological information to identify sites that should be explored. They 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 sites to extract oil and gas.

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.

People with a geoscience background may become postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment

Geoscientists
Geoscientists frequently work outdoors so they can study geological aspects of the Earth, such as geysers, up close.

Geoscientists held about 36,400 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most geoscientists were as follows:

Oil and gas extraction 22%
Engineering services 17
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 15
State government, excluding education and hospitals 8
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 7

About 1 in 5 worked in the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industry in 2014. Also, about 3 out of 10 geoscientists were employed in Texas in 2014, because of the prominence of those activities in that state. Workers in natural resource extraction fields usually work as part of a team, with other scientists and engineers. For example, they may work closely with petroleum engineers to find and develop new sources of oil and natural gas.

Most geoscientists split their time among working in the field, in laboratories, and in offices. Fieldwork can take geoscientists to remote locations all over the world. For example, oceanographers may spend months at sea on a research ship, and researchers studying advanced topics may need to collaborate with top scientists around the world. Extensive travel and long periods away from home can be physically and psychologically demanding.

The search for natural resources often takes geoscientists involved in exploration to remote areas and foreign countries. When in the field, geoscientists may work in both warm and cold climates, in all types of weather. They may have to travel by helicopter or in vehicles with four-wheel drive and cover large areas on foot. Having outdoor skills, such as camping and boat-handling skills, may be useful.

Work Schedules

Most geoscientists work full time. They may work additional or irregular hours when doing fieldwork. Geoscientists travel frequently to meet with clients and to conduct fieldwork.

How to Become a Geoscientist

Geoscientists
Laboratory experience is important for prospective geoscientists.

Geoscientists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions. In several states, geoscientists may need a license to offer their services to the public.

Education

Geoscientists need at least a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions. However, some workers begin their careers as geoscientists with a master’s degree. A Ph.D. is necessary for most basic research and college teaching positions.

A degree in geoscience is preferred by employers, although a degree in physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, engineering, or computer science usually is accepted if it includes coursework in geology.

Most geoscience programs include geology courses in mineralogy, petrology, and structural geology, which are important for all geoscientists. In addition to classes in geology, most programs require students to take courses in other physical sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computer science. Some programs include training on specific software packages that will be useful to those seeking a career as a geoscientist.

Computer knowledge is essential for geoscientists. Students who have experience with computer modeling, data analysis, and digital mapping will be the most prepared to enter the job market.

Many employers seek applicants who have gained field and laboratory experience while pursuing a degree. Summer field camp programs offer students the opportunity to work closely with professors and apply their classroom knowledge in the field. Students can gain valuable experience in data collection and geologic mapping.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Geoscientists write reports and research papers. They must be able to present their findings clearly to clients or professionals who do not have a background in geoscience.

Critical-thinking skills. Geoscientists base their findings on sound observation and careful evaluation of data.

Interpersonal skills. Most geoscientists work as part of a team with engineers, technicians, and other scientists.

Outdoor skills. Geoscientists may spend significant amounts of time outdoors. Familiarity with camping skills, general comfort being outside for long periods, and specific skills such as boat handling or even being able to pilot an aircraft could prove useful for geoscientists.

Physical stamina. Geoscientists may need to hike to remote locations while carrying testing and sampling equipment when they conduct fieldwork.

Problem-solving skills. Geoscientists work on complex projects filled with challenges. Evaluating statistical data and other forms of information in order to make judgments and inform the actions of other workers requires a special ability to perceive and address problems.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some states require geoscientists to obtain a license to practice. Requirements vary by state but typically include minimum education and experience requirements and a passing score on an exam.

Pay

Geoscientists

Median annual wages, May 2014

Geoscientists, except hydrologists and geographers

$89,910

Physical scientists

$76,260

Total, all occupations

$35,540

 

The median annual wage for geoscientists was $89,910 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,400, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $187,200.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for geoscientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Oil and gas extraction $135,380
Engineering services 78,300
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 78,140
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 74,100
State government, excluding education and hospitals 63,130

Most geoscientists work full time and may work additional or irregular hours when doing fieldwork. Geoscientists travel frequently to meet with clients and to conduct fieldwork.

Job Outlook

Geoscientists

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Geoscientists, except hydrologists and geographers

10%

Physical scientists

7%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of geoscientists is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. The need for energy, environmental protection, and responsible land and resource management is projected to spur demand for geoscientists.

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are examples of new technologies that are expected to increase demand for geoscientists. These technologies allow for the extraction of previously inaccessible oil and gas resources, and geoscientists will be needed to study the effects such technologies have on the surrounding areas. As oil prices increase in the future, even more technologies will likely be introduced that expand the ability to reach untapped oil reserves or introduce alternative ways to provide energy for the expanding population.

Geoscientists will be needed to help plan the construction of wind farms, geothermal power plants, and solar power plants. Alternative energies, such as wind energy, geothermal energy, and solar energy, can use large areas of land and affect wildlife and other natural processes. In addition, only certain areas are suitable for harvesting these energies. For example, geothermal energy plants must be located near sufficient hot ground water, and one task for geoscientists would be studying maps and charts to decide if the site is suitable.

An expanding population and the corresponding increased use of space and resources may create a continued need for geoscientists.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities should be excellent for geoscientists, particularly those with a master’s degree. In addition to job growth, a number of job openings are expected as geoscientists leave the workforce through retirement and for other reasons.

Geoscientists with a doctoral degree will likely face competition for positions in academia and research.

Computer knowledge is essential for geoscientists. Students who have experience with computer modeling, data analysis, and digital mapping will be the most prepared to enter the job market.

Fewer opportunities are expected in state and federal governments than in the past. Budget constraints are likely to limit hiring by state governments and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey. In addition, more of the work traditionally done by government agencies is expected to be contracted out to consulting firms in the future. Most opportunities for geoscientists are expected to be related to resource extraction—in particular, gas and oil exploration and extraction operations.

Employment projections data for geoscientists, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Geoscientists, except hydrologists and geographers

19-2042 36,400 40,200 10 3,800 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of geoscientists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2014 MEDIAN PAY
Agricultural and food scientists

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.

Bachelor's degree $60,690
Anthropologists and archeologists

Anthropologists and Archeologists

Anthropologists and archeologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans. They examine the cultures, languages, archeological remains, and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world.

Master's degree $59,280
Atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists

Atmospheric Scientists, Including Meteorologists

Atmospheric scientists study the weather and climate, and how those conditions affect human activity and the earth in general.

Bachelor's degree $87,980
Civil engineers

Civil Engineers

Civil engineers design, build, supervise, operate, and maintain construction projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

Bachelor's degree $82,050
Environmental engineers

Environmental Engineers

Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They are involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control.

Bachelor's degree $83,360
Environmental scientists and specialists

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, or work with industry to reduce waste.

Bachelor's degree $66,250
Geological and petroleum technicians

Geological and Petroleum Technicians

Geological and petroleum technicians provide support to scientists and engineers in exploring and extracting natural resources, such as minerals, oil, and natural gas.

Associate's degree $54,810
Hydrologists

Hydrologists

Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust. They use their expertise to solve problems in the areas of water quality or availability.

Bachelor's degree $78,370
Petroleum engineers

Petroleum Engineers

Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.

Bachelor's degree $130,050
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

See How to Become One $70,790
Chemists and materials scientists

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and the ways in which the substances interact with one another. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.

Bachelor's degree $74,720
Mining and geological engineers

Mining and Geological Engineers

Mining and geological engineers design mines to safely and efficiently remove minerals such as coal and metals for use in manufacturing and utilities.

Bachelor's degree $90,160
Natural sciences managers

Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers supervise the work of scientists, including chemists, physicists, and biologists. They direct activities related to research and development, and coordinate activities such as testing, quality control, and production.

Bachelor's degree $120,050
Physicists and astronomers

Physicists and Astronomers

Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Some physicists design and perform experiments with sophisticated equipment such as particle accelerators, electron microscopes, and lasers.

Doctoral or professional degree $109,290

Contacts for More Information

For more information about geoscientists, visit

American Geosciences Institute

Geological Society of America

IUGS

U.S. National Committee for Geological Sciences

For information about petroleum geologists, visit

American Association of Petroleum Geologists

For more information about licensure for geologists, visit

American Institute of Professional Geologists

To find job openings for geoscientists in the federal government, visit

USAJOBS

For information on federal government education requirements for geoscience positions, visit

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

O*NET

Geoscientists, Except Hydrologists and Geographers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Geoscientists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/geoscientists.htm (visited February 09, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015