What a Geologist does

You may know geologists are earth scientists, and may have seen one interviewed after an earthquake or a new fossil discovery. Most people have never met a geologist, though, and don’t know how important the profession is to their lives. What do  geologists do, and what does their work mean to us? Let’s meet some geologists and find out.

Myra works for an environmental geology company. One of her biggest concerns is LUST -– “leaking underground storage tanks.” Environmental geologists identify causes of pollution and work to reduce it. They drill wells and take samples, which provide data used to identify contaminants and plan removal of the pollutants.

Jason works for a geological survey. He has a PhD in hydrogeology, the branch of geology that studies underground water. He maps layers of soil near the ground’s surface. This is important because he is studying an underground layer that contains drinking water. Jason’s data come from shallow wells, some of which he drills himself. He spends about half his time in the field and half in an office.

Doug works at an international oil company. He has a Master’s degree, and has worked in the oil industry for thirty  years. He uses complex software to build three-dimensional models of oil fields. Doug is part of a team that uses geology and geophysics  to describe rock layers deep underground. Like many oil geologists, Doug works with computers and only sees actual rocks on vacation.

Diane works for a mining company as one of a group of geologists seeking mineral deposits worldwide. They look for coltan in the Congo, gold in Guyana, and rare earth elements in Russia. She begins by studying the regional and local geology; then uses satellite photographs and other “hands-off” techniques for remote studies. Finally, her team evaluates sites on the ground.

Lew became a university professor after earning his PhD in vertebrate paleontology. Paleontology is the science where geology and biology intersect; vertebrate paleontology is the study of animals like reptiles and mammals. Lew publishes popular science books about dinosaurs, his specialty. For nine months, he teaches, presents research results, and works in a laboratory. During the summer, he can be found at fossil digs, where he performs field research and supervises graduate students.

Carol has a PhD in geophysics, and works for the US Geological Survey as a seismologist. Seismologists study earthquakes, and identify the locations of earthquakes and measure their size. Carol’s studies the interaction of the earth’s tectonic plates, which causes earthquakes and volcanoes. She’s spent five seasons in Antarctica studying the structure of the Antarctic plate and the condition of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Her work is important both to understanding earthquakes and understanding global climate.

These six people are all geologists, though their jobs can be very different. Among them are some whose work is part of the effort to find and produce fossil fuels – oil, gas, and coal. One’s job is to locate metals and other important minerals. Two are in jobs whose purpose is to insure clean drinking water. One is a teacher, who inspires and trains students to work in the energy, minerals, and environmental fields. And finally, one’s job is pure science: adding to the body of knowledge about our world; knowledge that other geologists can use for their “real” work.

All those things are what geologists do.