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What do Geologists Do?

The Earth
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Geology Department:
Department of Earth Sciences


Geologists draw upon other scientific disciplines to study the Earth: its structure, processes, evolution and resources. Because of the broad nature of this geologists face a variety of challenges and many opportunities of discovery in their career.
Some geologists enjoy working out-doors in diverse environments from cold arctic regions to hot deserts, from high mountain peaks to the ocean floor, and even on the moon! Other geologists work in laboratories analyzing rocks, interpreting satellite photographs or developing computer programs.
The tools used range from a rock hammer to sophisticated analytical instruments such as scanning electron microscopes and X-ray diffractometers and petrographic microscopes. (Petrographic microscopes are used to identify minerals). Geologists are often as capable with a hammer as with a computer.
Geology contributes to public safety. Hazards such as erosion, landslides, earthquakes, volcanic explosions like the Mt. St. Helens eruption are studied to reduce and limit danger to life and property. Measurement of soil properties, interpretation of seismograph records and radiometric dating of volcanic ash layers are some ways of assessing these dangers. Analysing the movement of materials through the environment allows geologists to model the effects of pollution and advise society on alternatives. Geologists also map water resources, assess problems such as groundwater contamination and potential flood hazards.
Geology contributes to natural resource development. Our economies are vulnerable to shortages in energy and minerals and many geologists work at discovering and extracting these resources. It may be predicting how deep an oil well must be drilled to strike oil or where to extract ore from underground veins. Geologists in these careers might study chips of rock from deep below the surface brought up during well drilling, identifying microscopic fossils, deducing the geometries of rock layers miles underground from seismic recordings, mapping complex geology from aerial or satalite photographs, or surveying the rocks exposed in mines.
Geologists also study the causes and effects of the slow, continuous movement of the continents across the Earth's surface; the environments of past ages; the extinction of the dinosaurs; and the crystaline structure of gems.
Whether you are interested in fieldwork or in the laboratory, geology offers you many options for an interesting career. You might work with a rock hammer, a drilling rig, a microscope, a computer or with scale models such as wind tunnels you might even reach the moon!