What does a Geophysicist do?

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A geophysicist studies various aspects of the Earth and this field is very broad. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, they study the Earth’s gravity, magnetic, electrical, and seismic activity. Their studies don’t stop there as some use this knowledge to locate minerals and other resources on Earth.

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How to Become a Geophysicist

A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is needed for an entry level position as a geophysicist though most hold a master’s degrees in geophysics. For instance, for a bachelor’s degree you may study geology or take mathematics or physics. Then, many continue with an advanced degree in geophysics with advanced coursework or fieldwork in their specialty of choice.

If you have yet to graduate high school, taking as many science and math classes as possible would be a plus. They also work with computers while conducting research, so computer courses would be helpful as well.

You can find additional information about Geophysicists along with additional educational materials on the U.S. Geological Survey website (links open in a new window).

Job Description of a Geophysicist

geophysicist

Many geophysicists specialize in an area of geophysics. Therefore, the job description would change pending the speciality. Some may spend more time indoors in a lab environment where others may spend much of the time outdoors making observations and collecting samples to study. They can also work in many industries from academics, government, and mining to name a few.

For instance, Jay Wellik studies volcanos. His area of expertise in geophysics is researching why volcanos erupt and what indicators there may be that an eruption may occur. He tracks seismic activity and then tracks what happens before, during, and after a volcano erupts.

Geophysicist Career Video Transcript

Laura Stern, of the U.S. Geological Survey at the Gas Hydrates Lab in Menlo Park, California: We make a number of different hydrates in the laboratory. Some are with hydrocarbons; methane being the most abundant. We also make carbon dioxide hydrate, ethane hydrate, propane, a number of different structures.

Liquid nitrogen is very cold. It’s about 100 degrees colder than the temperature at which these hydrate samples would dissociate, when they would decompose to ice plus gas on the tabletop. In here we have a little piece of methane hydrate. It’s enclosed in a soft metal jacket. So the samples we make, their polycrystalline. They look like snow, it looks like compacted snow but honestly, it does contain gas inside. Take a little piece off here and as it warms up, you’ll begin to see it pop. It’s reverting to ice plus gas and then as the ice would melt as it continues to warm, it will end up being water plus gas. So this will form anywhere you have water and gas at moderately low temperatures or high pressure.

My name is Steve Kirby, I’m a Geophysicist here at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park. I work with Laura Stern who is also a Geophysicist in this lab that is devoted towards the investigation of planetary ices and gas hydrates. Gas hydrates in nature occur in very remote places and they are very complex with the interactions and conditions that they form under and samples that are brought up are under some sort of alternation or decomposition.

We’ve educated ourselves by experiment in learning how to make them in a form that’s suitable for doing material property testing. This is an unusual lab and there are only a handful of them worldwide and we are very fortunate to be here at the Geological Survey and to have the opportunity of working on them.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Geoscientists.

National Center for O*NET Development. 19-2042.00. O*NET OnLine.

This video was produced by the government for the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS Gas Hydrates Lab is funded by the Department of Energy and the USGS Gas Hydrates Project.