What Is Geophysics And What Do Geophysicists Do? A Guide

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 16 March 2023

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Geophysics is a field of study that lies at the intersection of the domains of geology and physics. As a career field, it offers qualified professionals a variety of job roles, including academic and research-oriented roles. Knowing more about this discipline and the benefits of studying it can help you decide if it is apt for you to pursue. In this article, we examine what is geophysics, discuss why it is important and explore some reasons for pursuing a career in this domain.

What Is Geophysics?

The answer to the question, "What is geophysics?" is that it is an academic discipline that studies the physical properties and structure of the earth. The exact nature of work in this domain may vary tremendously in scale, as professionals study a wide range of physical attributes of the earth. A geophysicist's area of interest may range from the chemical compositions and microscopic details of rock formations and constituent minerals to large-scale global phenomena, such as climate change and natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis. Geophysics, as an academic discipline, has largely shaped humanity's understanding of the planet's physical behaviour.

Related: Different Types Of Physicists (With Duties And Skills)

What Do Geophysicists Do?

Geophysicists apply their knowledge and expertise to further a collective understanding of the earth and elements in its immediate vicinity, like the moon. They also try to provide solutions to many problems that society faces as a result of resource scarcity, hazardous natural phenomena, man-made and natural disasters, and climate change. For example, government agencies and private corporations may seek the help of these professionals to locate water and fossil fuel reservoirs.

Geophysicists may use a variety of methods to study the physical properties of the earth and its constituent components. One of the most prominent types of data they work with is seismic data. Physicists send pressurised waves into the earth's surface and record the time it takes to reflect back. Using this information, they create numerical and mathematical models that capture the structure and physical properties of portions of the earth accurately. In addition to collecting seismic data, geophysicists may also use magnetic, gravimetric and electromagnetic data to support their research.

Related: What Is A Geologist? (With Duties, Skills And Salary)

Why Is Geophysics Important?

Geophysics as an academic discipline enables professionals to:

  • Model and study large geographical areas of the earth to better understand its structure

  • Identify and locate reservoirs of groundwater, minerals and hydrocarbons like petrochemicals

  • Locate reservoirs of gaseous deposits like CO2 under the surface of the earth

  • Identify potential locations for renewable energy infrastructure like windmills and geothermal energy stations

  • Map the bottom of the ocean floor for laying cables and pipelines

  • Identify and evaluate the risk of natural hazards like landslides, tsunamis and earthquakes

  • Gauge the impact of global warming on frigid areas of the earth

  • Assist archaeologists in uncovering historic remains that lie under the surface of the earth

In the last century, population figures have expanded significantly across the world, and this has led to over-utilisation of natural resources on a global scale. With time, geological resources may become scarce and the requirement for qualified and experienced geophysicists may potentially increase. Large-scale phenomena such as global warming also increase the risk of natural disasters and geophysicists can play a crucial role in mitigating these risks. Additionally, professionals in this domain can also work on interdisciplinary projects to develop sustainable economic models that have reduced ecological impact.

Benefits Of Pursuing A Career In Geophysics

As a student of geophysics, you may engage in academic disciplines ranging from programming and computer science, to mathematics, physics and earth sciences. Students who pursue geophysics courses may develop skills in multiple domains, making them ideal candidates for interdisciplinary job opportunities. After completing a formal academic course, you can also pursue careers in fields like geology, ecology, conservation, regional planning and cartography. Typically, a geophysics course covers areas like:

  • Acquiring and analysing raw gravimetric, electromagnetic and seismic data

  • Researching and developing new methodologies and theories

  • Researching hazardous natural phenomena like landslides, tsunamis and earthquakes

  • Devising and applying methods to prevent natural calamities

While practicing professionally in this domain, qualified candidates may receive the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world and interact with professionals from several countries. As a geophysicist, you may participate in a variety of academic and professional initiatives like workshops, seminars, residencies, field trips and conferences. This is an ideal career field for professionals who like to work in office and field settings.

Related: 12 Careers After A BSc Course (With Duties And Salary)

How To Become A Geophysicist?

Follow these steps to become a geophysicist:

1. Graduate from higher secondary school

The first step involved in becoming a geophysicist is to graduate from higher secondary school. At the higher secondary academic level, it is ideal to opt for a stream with subjects like physics, mathematics, computer sciences and chemistry. You may require an aggregate score of at least 55% in a relevant board examination, to become eligible for enrolling in an institution of national or international repute.

2. Pursue a bachelor's degree

The minimum requirement for starting a career in a geophysicist role is an undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline. Consider a bachelor's degree in disciplines like earth sciences, geology or geophysics. The most ideal choice is a B.Sc (Bachelor of Science) in Geophysics. This is typically a four-year course and may include one or more internship opportunities in the final semesters. With a bachelor's degree in geophysics, you can apply for entry-level roles in this field.

3. Consider a master's degree

Although it is not mandatory, a postgraduate academic qualification can greatly improve your employability and earning potential. It gives your profile a competitive edge in comparison to candidates who directly enter the job market with a bachelor's degree. The most appropriate postgraduate course for aspirants in this domain is an M.Sc (Master of Science) in Geophysics. This is typically a two-year course that requires candidates to complete a thesis or an end-semester project to graduate. With a master's degree, you can apply for mid-level roles in this domain, after gaining some work experience.

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4. Search for job postings

After you complete your education, look for job postings on online platforms or through alumni networks of the institutions you engaged academically in. Consider what kind of role you would prefer and read job descriptions thoroughly before applying. This helps you identify the qualities that employers may look for in an ideal candidate.

Related: Job Description Vs. Job Specification: An In-depth Guide

5. Prepare an effective resume

Write your resume in such a way that it reflects your skills, qualifications and experience accurately. Reviewing the job description can help you identify the keywords that apply to an ideal candidate. Consider incorporating relevant keywords into your resume, if you feel they apply to you. Many employers rely on ATS (Application Tracking System) software to filter resumes. Using the right keyword can ensure that your application passes any automated filtering processes.

Related: Resume For Freshers: Guide With Template

6. Gain work experience

You can start gaining work experience in this domain along with your studies, through internships and extended field visits. Internships provide a good opportunity for students to understand what a job role and a career field entail. You can ensure that you are a good fit for a role, by familiarising yourself with the prominent duties associated with it and the work culture associated with the industry or domain.

Administrative positions in the career field of geophysics may require you to possess advanced academic credentials and extensive work experience. It is ideal to gain at least a few years of work experience in an entry-level or mid-level role, before applying for higher positions in reputed firms. Since geophysics is a largely academic career field, pursuing a doctorate degree is also a viable option for candidates, as it allows them to engage in the field academically and professionally.

Related: What Is Relevant Experience? (With Examples And Tips)

Where Do Geophysicists Work?

There are a variety of employment sectors that geophysicists can target while looking for a job. Some of the prominent employers of professionals in this domain include:

  • Energy producers

  • Mining and extraction companies

  • Higher academic institutions

  • Public and private research facilities

  • Infrastructure development firms

  • Public sector consultancies

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