How to become a Geophysicist

Geophysicists study the structure and composition of zones below the surface of the earth by taking measurements using seismic, gravity, magnetic and electrical data collection methods.

Personal requirements of a Geophysicist

  • Enjoy technical and engineering work
  • Alert and analytical mind
  • Enjoy applying physics and mathematics in practical ways
  • Good oral and written communication skills
  • Able to work independently or as part of a team
  • Willing to work in remote areas

Education & Training for a Geophysicist

To become a geophysicist you usually have to complete a degree in science with a major in geophysics, geoscience or a combination of geology and physics, preferably at honours level. To get into these courses you usually need to gain your Senior Secondary Certificate of Education. Prerequisite subjects, or assumed knowledge, in one or more of English, mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology are normally required. A number of universities in Australia offer degrees in these areas. Universities have different prerequisites and some have flexible entry requirements. Contact the institutions you are interested in for more information. For full details, refer to the entries on the website at www.goodcareersguide.com.au or university handbooks.

Duties & Tasks of a Geophysicist

Geophysicists may perform the following tasks:

  • supervise the collection and processing of seismic data for petroleum exploration, and interpret and map prospects on which to drill a well
  • plan, conduct and interpret geophysical surveys in exploring for mineral commodities such as gold, base metals, diamonds and coal using various electrical techniques and magnetic or gravity surveys
  • design, develop and operate computer systems and software for processing and interpreting geophysical data sets
  • plan, conduct and interpret geophysical surveys to locate and estimate quantities of recoverable groundwater reserves, the distribution and extent of salinity in agricultural areas or the extent of pollution in the ground or atmosphere
  • carry out geophysical surveys of areas prior to the construction of major engineering structures such as dams, bridges or roads
  • study earthquakes and earthquake risk, time variations and the distribution of the earth’s magnetic and gravity fields, the physics of rocks and minerals, and fluid dynamics of molten rock (magma), oceans and atmosphere
  • research new methods and instrumentation
  • develop instrumentation for taking physical measurements in surveys, including gravity meters, magnetometers, seismic recorders, radiometric systems, and electrical, electromagnetic and radar transmitters and receivers
  • develop mathematical models as an aid to interpreting geophysical survey results.

Working conditions for a Geophysicist

Geophysicists often work as part of a team of geoscientists. Some carry out fieldwork, which may involve a lot of travel, often to remote areas.

Employment Opportunities for a Geophysicist

Most geophysicists are exploration geophysicists, employed by oil and mineral exploration companies. They are also employed by data processing centres, computer software development companies, environmental groups, state government geological survey teams, the Australian Geological Survey Organisation, the Australian Bureau of Mineral Resources, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and universities. There are some opportunities for self-employment as geophysical consultants. Because the skills of geophysicists can be applied in other areas, alternative employment is available when activity in the mineral or petroleum industries declines.

Additional Information
The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) website has a range of geoscience career and education information, including a list of recognised courses. After a qualifying period, graduates may be eligible for membership with the Australian Institute of Geoscientists, the Australian Society of Exploration Geophysicists and AusIMM. Student memberships are available with the Australian Institute of Geoscientists and AusIMM.
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