What is a Geologist?

Geology is a study that encompasses all the materials that make up the earth, the forces that act upon the earth, as well as the biology of ancestral inhabitants based on fossil records. It plays a vital role behind the success of many other different disciplines, such as climatology, civil engineering, and evolutionary biology. Overall, geology is concerned with the changes of the earth over time, such as climate change and land formation.

Geologists study earth processes such as earthquakes, landslides, floods, and volcanic eruptions. When geologists investigate earth materials, they not only investigate metals and minerals, but also look for oil, natural gas, water, and methods to extract these.

What does a Geologist do?

A geologist works to understand the history of the planet we live on, to better predict the future, and to explain current occurrences. Geologists are also hired to survey land and draw up safe building plans.

A geologist looking at a piece of rock with a magnifying glass.

A general geologist works with mineralogy, petrology, geological mapping, economic geology, and petroleum geology. Geological mapping consists of documenting geological formations on a map, such as rock patterns and distribution.

All divisions of geology provide highly useful information towards understanding the earth and its inhabitants. Depending on the particular specialization in geology, a geologist may study and map rock formations, collect rock samples and fossils, or measure the physical properties of the earth. Studying these things helps geologists interpret the active geological processes during the past several million years of earth's history.

Types of Geologists:

Environmental Geologist
Environmental geologists look for solutions to environmental issues by observing and investigating flooding, erosion, earthquakes, pollution, and natural hazards. They specifically focus on studying and understanding the earth and human interactions with the land, so as to forecast any geological issues and impacts on the environment due to the effects of urban and industrial expansion. Their research and work is vital to finding successful ways to reducing the negative effects of growth.

Duties for environmental geologists may involve: collecting soil, sediment, rock and core samples; conducting surveys; studying the effects of erosion and sedimentation; and recording information from reports, geochemical surveys, imagery, and maps.

Engineering Geologist
Engineering geologists can work as advisors to private and public companies on the environmental and geological issues for real estate development by assessing whether the ground rock is stable and safe enough to build on.

An engineering geologist investigates the physical and chemical properties of rocks and soil - this information is carried over to building bridges, dams, structures, roads, and tunnels in structurally sound areas and at minimal cost. Some knowledge of civil engineering is also recommended for the civil planning aspect.

Marine Geologist
Marine geologists are a subset of geologists that study the processes (such as plate tectonics, volcanic activity, and earthquakes) of the land form that is beneath the ocean. This includes the ocean floor, beaches, estuaries, some coastal river areas and large lakes, and the shallow slopes/shelves that surround the continents.

Marine geologists are more involved in the results of geology, rather than the causes. They focus on the interplay between geology, marine biology, and oceanography, as the bottom of the ocean is still an unexplored frontier. Studying and maintaining the health of our coastal and offshore resources is vital to our economy - there is a large amount of natural gas and oil that is beneath our oceans, and the skills and new technologies that marine geologists bring to the table are essential as we surpass peak oil.

Planetary Geologist
Planetary geology is concerned with studying the geology of the planets and their moons, asteroids, comets, and meteorites. Planetary geologists look at things like the make-up of the minor bodies of the Solar System, planetary volcanism, impact craters, what the internal structure of the moon is, or how planets like Pluto, Saturn or Jupiter were originally formed.

Planetary geology is closely linked with Earth-based geology, and applies geological science to other planetary bodies. By either working with actual specimens that were gathered from space missions, or from analyzing photos, planetary geologists can set about understanding the climate, history, and topography of other planets.

Economic Geologist
Economic geology is a subset of geology that is concerned with the formation and extraction of earth materials such as precious and base metals, petroleum minerals, nonmetallic minerals, construction-grade stone, coal, and water that can be used for economic potential and/or industrial purposes in society. Economic potential refers to materials that are currently or may potentially be valuable, typically referred to as mineral resources (they include minerals, oil, gas, and ore deposits).

Most of our modern conveniences (for example computers and plastics) rely on the Earth's natural resources and once started as raw materials. The earth's population is estimated to hit over 9 billion by 2050 - more people means more natural resources will be needed. An economic geologist's primary objective is to locate profitable deposits of oil, gas, and minerals and to figure out how to extract them. Economic geologists continue to successfully expand and define known mineral resources.

Petroleum Geologist
A petroleum geologist is involved in identifying possible oil deposits/traps, oil discovery, and production. They are called upon to study sediment deposits in oceans, rock folds, and faults. They also make the decision of where to drill by locating prospects within a sedimentary basin. This can be very labour-intensive work that involves special equipment to look at sedimentary and structural aspects in order to locate possible oil traps.

Petroleum geologists determine a prospect’s viability by looking for: a source rock that can generate hydrocarbons; porous rock reservoirs that are sealed and that collect hydrocarbons in a trap; traps that are formed in a specific geological order; a cracking of organic matter into gas and oil when under heat and pressure; and the movement of gas and oil from the source rock- to a reservoir rock- to a trap. Data may be obtained via geophysical surveys and from the mudlogger, who analyzes the drill cuttings and the rock formation thicknesses.

Geomorphologists study how the Earth’s surface is sculpted or morphed by streams, landslides, glaciers, and wind. Volcanos, earthquakes, and tsunamis also fall within the interests of geomorphologists. As rock and sediment is worn away and moved to other areas (erosion or deposition) by certain processes, landforms are produced. By studying, documenting, and mapping these landforms/landscapes and how air, water, and ice has affected them, geomorphologists can better understand how and why they form. Often particles and organic material, such as diatoms and macrofossils, that are preserved in sediments and peat can give hints on past climate changes and processes.

Geomorphologists can specialize in aeolian (desert) geomorphology, glacial and periglacial geomorphology, volcanic and tectonic geomorphology, and planetary geomorphology.

A geophysicist studies the Earth by using gravity and magnetic, electrical, and seismic methods. Research geophysicists study the earth's internal structure, earthquakes, the ocean and other physical features using these methods. Some geophysicists study the earth's properties for environmental hazards and assess areas for construction sites.

Investigating the inner workings of the earth, geophysicists focus upon the physical and fluid properties of materials making up the earth, seeking a greater understanding of continental formation and processes that happen because of it (earthquakes, etc). Geophysicists also focus on finding oil, iron, copper, and many other deposits of minerals created by the earth's movement and compression of materials.

Geohydrologists study the properties and distribution of natural underground water reservoirs, their capacity to store water, and the movement of water through the reservoirs. More importantly, geohydrologists investigate the cycles of drawing out water from the reservoirs for human consumption, as well as the replenishment by precipitation.

Making deductions about ancestral climates and environmental conditions through fossil records is the job of a paleontologist, a type of geologist. We can understand so much more about the past earth thanks to these researchers who analyze deposited layers of rock and soil for clues about pre-historic times. A paleontologist works with evolutionary biology, determining the factors that made species go extinct and those that brought about the origin of species as well.

A geologist using a pick axe to get a sample from a rock formation.

The following are some examples of duties and responsibilities:

Mapping and Fieldwork
Field mapping - to produce a geological map by examining rock types, geological structures, and how they relate to one another.
Geotechnical mapping - to evaluate the properties and stability of rock areas to determine suitability for any kind of construction or modification, such a building a tunnel.

Rock core logging – also known as rock chip logging, for mining and exploration companies
Mud logging – for oil and gas exploration
Geotechnical logging – to assess the strength or weakness of rocks; to identify fractures

Laboratory Work
Lab work is essential in the field of geology. In fact, some geoscientists work exclusively for large commercial laboratories that conduct data analysis for mining, oil and gas, engineering, and environmental companies.

Microscopic analysis – to examine the fine details of rocks and fossils
Geochemical analysis – to reveal details about samples, such as metal content or quality of oil
Geomechanical analysis – to test and reveal the strength of rocks

Computer-Based Work
Geographical Information Systems GIS) - essentially allow geologists to conduct field mapping on their computers by producing a digital database of acquired field data

Modelling programs - have become increasingly important tools for geologists, both in the research sector and in the commercial sector. Geologists produce modelling programs for: modelling geological processes, often for research; producing a 3D model of an oil field, a mineral deposit, or an aquifer (an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock); modelling the subsurface geology that is to be modified by an engineering project.

Report Writing
Geology reports can range from brief daily site updates to large documents of several hundred pages concerning economic assessments and environmental impacts of potential exploration projects.

Are you suited to be a geologist?

Geologists have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also realistic, meaning they’re independent, stable, persistent, genuine, practical, and thrifty.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if geologist is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of a Geologist like?

Geologists work mainly in the field outdoors, but they can also do research within laboratories, classrooms, and offices. Since geology deals with much fieldwork, one should be able to adapt to weather changes and to varying terrains.

Geologists and geo-technologists work for mining companies or oil and gas exploration companies. They can also find work in civil engineering firms, planning city construction. Additionally, government agencies may need the aid of geologists to support geoscience, education, water affairs, and forestry. A geologist may also work with a variety of organizations over the span of their employment, such as non-profit organizations, universities and natural reserve companies, or work as a consultant.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of geologist spends the most time outdoors?

Geologists study rocks, minerals, and the physical processes that create and change the earth's landscape. There are several areas of geology one can pursue, and some geologists spend more time outdoors than others.

If outdoors is where you want to be, look into becoming a field or exploration geologist. They do geological surveys and mineral prospecting that requires them to spend quite a bit of time outdoors.

Environmental engineers spend roughly fifty percent of their time outdoors, helping project managers with field work and doing environmental site assessments. Their other duties may include installing remediation systems, taking soil tests, and surveying monitoring wells.

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What is the difference between a geologist and a paleontologist?

A geologist is someone who is involved in the study of the outer layer of the earth's crust. The objective of geology is to understand the history of the planet we live on; to better predict the future and to explain current occurrences of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and landslides.

A paleontologist, on the other hand, looks at the fossil remains of many types of organisms on the Earth's surface. Paleontology is the study of primitive life, including plant and animal organisms, fungi, bacteria, etc.

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See Also

Geologists are also known as:
Earth Scientist Geohydrologist Geophysicist