Geophysics is the study of the earth’s crust and physical structure, such as continental plates and underground geological formations. Seismology is the study of earthquakes, their formation and the factors causing tremors and seismic movements.
Geophysicists and field seismologists have similar objectives. Essentially, these people collect data with a view to predicting seismic events and occurrences.
Both sets of professionals are employed by commercial entities such as oil and gas exploration and extraction companies, advanced research facilities that provide geological and seismic data for government and public use, environmental consultancy firms and academic institutions.
Understandably, these scientific professionals aren’t always found cooped up in offices or laboratories; in fact, they frequently get to perform their duties out in the field.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be identifying geographic areas where seismic activity frequently occurs, setting up devices to record and measure earth movements, and collecting and analysing this data.
Based on your observations, you’ll be required to make recommendations and offer guidance to your clients on the actions that they should take.
Salary & benefits
Candidates entering this profession with an undergraduate degree can expect to earn around £20,000 to £25,000 per annum, while people with relevant postgraduate qualifications (MSc or PhD) may have slightly higher starting salaries, ranging between £25,000 and £30,000.
Senior professionals with more than five years of experience can even earn up to £65,000 a year.
People employed by commercial companies tend to receive higher salaries than employees of public sector organisations and academic institutions.
Geophysicists and seismologists spend similar amounts of time engaged in field-based activities and lab or office-based work.
When you’re working in a lab, your hours are likely to follow the standard nine-to-five schedule, unless research deadlines are looming.
Field-based professionals may work on a less consistent schedule, which is dependent on weather conditions, hazardous terrain and the specific research activity being carried out.
When it comes to carrying out field research, you may have the opportunity to travel extensively as part of your job. For instance, you could be working away from home in areas located along major fault lines.
An undergraduate degree in a relevant scientific subject, such as maths, geology, geography, physics, geophysics or environmental geoscience, is the basic entry requirement for new recruits.
However, many employers (especially academic institutions) may prefer candidates that have attained a relevant postgraduate degree (MSc or PhD).
Other requirements may include flexibility to work across the globe, physical fitness, endurance and excellent vision.
Fantastic communication, analytical and organisational skills are also essential, along with a decent knowledge of I.T. systems and software that can be used to create 2D and 3D models of the earth’s structure.
Training & progression
A handful of large companies in the oil, gas, petrochemical and mining industries offer structured training and development programmes, while the majority of employers mainly provide opportunities for gaining hands-on experience, work shadowing and working under the supervision of an experienced line manager.
Becoming a member of relevant professional bodies, such as the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), can be helpful in enhancing your expertise and knowledge base. Furthermore, this will give you the opportunity to interact with other senior professionals across the industry.
As you progress and develop your expertise, you may choose to specialise in a niche area of geophysics or take on a role with managerial responsibilities and more of a focus on strategic leadership.
Freelance consulting is a viable alternative option for geophysicists and seismologists, though this is a rare move.