Career Descriptions

What are geologists and what do they do?

Geologists study the Earth's physical composition, structure, history, and the natural processes.

They provide information to society for use in solving problems and establishing policies for resource management, environmental protection, public health, safety, and welfare.

Geologists are concerned about Earth issues. Is there a global warming trend? How and where should we dispose of industrial wastes? How can we satisfy society's growing demands for energy, yet conserve natural resources for future generations?

Geologists discover and develop supplies of fossil fuels, groundwater, construction materials and mineral ores. They understand the processes that affect the quality of the natural environment. They study and mitigate geohazards such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, and landslides. They explore and discover new ideas about the natural world from the depths of the oceans and the core of the Earth to the outer reaches of space.

Most of all, geologists enjoy the Earth. It is an outdoor laboratory filled with opportunities to observe Earth processes in action. By applying knowledge of forces that shape the Earth, geologists seek to reconstruct the past and anticipate the future.

What is a day in the life of a geologist like?

Most geologists say that they enjoy the challenge and diversity of their work and that there is no "typical" day.

Geoscientists work with people, data, information, ideas, and technology. Computers have had a major impact on the gathering and interpretation of data in all areas of the geosciences. Geologists often work with other scientists and engineers in teams, reflecting the complexity of the problems they address. Information technology and the Internet have greatly increased the accessibility of data and the speed of communication among people worldwide, and has likewise affected the pace and diversity of the geosciences.

Geologists work in the field and laboratory, but many days are spent in the office. They gather and interpret data, generate ideas, and communicate the results of their work in writing, illustrations and in oral presentations.

Employment outlook and earnings potential for geologists

Disciplines & Subdisciplines

There are many types of careers that you can pursue with a Geology or Earth Science degree.

The geosciences are composed of five major disciplines:

  • Geology
  • Geophysics
  • Atmospheric sciences
  • Space sciences
  • Oceanography

There are many subdisciplines, reflecting diverse areas of specialization.


  • Economic geologists study mineral deposits that can be used for economic and/or industrial purposes.
  • Environmental geologists work to solve problems with pollution, waste disposal and urban development and hazards, such as flooding and erosion.
  • Engineering geologists investigate and provide geologic and geotechnical recommendations, analysis, and design associated with human development.
  • Geochemists investigate the nature and distribution of chemical elements in rocks and minerals.
  • Geomorphologists study the effects of Earth processes and investigate the nature, origin and development of present landforms and their relationship to underlying structures.
  • Glaciologists study the physical properties and movement of glaciers and ice sheets.
  • Hydrologists investigate the movement and quality of water.
  • Mineral geologists explore for and develop mineral deposits.
  • Mineralogists study the formation, composition and properties of minerals.
  • Petrologists determine the origin and genesis of rocks by analyzing mineral or grain relationships.
  • Paleontologists study fossils to understand past life forms and their changes through time and to reconstruct past environments.
  • Petroleum geologists are involved in the exploration and production of oil and natural gas.
  • Sedimentologists study sedimentary rocks and the processes of sediment formation, transportation and deposition.
  • Stratigraphers investigate the time and space relationships of layered rocks and their fossil and mineral content.
  • Volcanologists investigate volcanoes and volcanic phenomena.


  • Geophysicists decipher the Earth's interior and its magnetic, electric, and gravitational fields.
  • Seismologists study the location and force of earthquakes and trace the behavior of earthquake waves to interpret the structure of the Earth.

Atmospheric sciences

  • Atmospheric chemists investigate the chemical processes occurring in the atmosphere, such as the relationship between CFCs and ozone.
  • Atmospheric physicists study the effect of terrestrial, atmospheric, and space-based forces on the behavior of the atmosphere.
  • Climate modelers use mathematical techniques to simulate the interaction of physical forces on climate and climate change.
  • Meteorologists study the movement and energy distributions of the atmosphere, particularly with respect to their effect on weather.

Space sciences

  • Astronomers study celestial bodies, their movement, and location, using methods such as optical and radio astronomy.
  • Astrophysicists investigate the physical properties and interaction of forces in space, including electromagnetic radiation and the dynamics of time and matter.
  • Planetary geologists study the moon and other planets to understand the evolution of the solar system.


  • Biological oceanographers focus on life in the ocean and how it is affected by chemical and physical processes.
  • Chemical oceanographers study the chemical composition of the ocean and its relationship to the lithosphere and biological processes.
  • Physical oceanographers study the natural processes and dynamics of the ocean and its interaction with the solid Earth.

Graduate School

You can enter graduate school to specialize in a specific area of geology or an allied field.  Geologists who specialize in the following areas typically have a Master’s Degree or a Ph.D:

  • Paleontology – Paleontologists study fossils found in geological formations to trace the evolution of plant and animal life and the geologic history of the Earth
  • Seismology – Seismologists study earthquakes and related phenomena like tsunamis. They use seismographs and other instruments to collect data on these events.
  • Hydrogeology – Hydrogeologists study groundwater, its flow, and its pollution and remediation.
  • Hydrology – Hydrologists study water and the water cycle. They use their expertise to solve problems in the areas of water quality or availability.
  • Geochemistry – Geochemists use physical and organic chemistry to study the composition of elements found in groundwater, such as water from wells or aquifers, and earth materials, such as rocks and sediment.
  • Geophysics – 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.
  • Structural Geology – Structural Geologists study mountain building and the folding and faulting of rocks.
  • Paleoclimatology – Paleoclimatologists study the Earth's climate prior to the widespread availability of records of temperature, precipitation and other instrumental data.
  • Paleoceanography – Paleoceanographers study of the history of the oceans in the geologic past with regard to circulation, chemistry, biology, geology and patterns of sedimentation and biological productivity.
  • Oceanography – Oceanographers study marine organisms and ecosystem dynamics; construction of harbors; sediment transport; coastal processes; ocean circulation, and geophysical fluid dynamics; plate tectonics and the geology of the sea floor; and fluxes of various chemical substances and physical properties within the ocean and across its boundaries.

Thanks to the AGI Workforce for much of this material.