What geologists do
What's it like being a geologist?
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Geology often involves the search for and study of natural resources in the Earth's crust including minerals, oil, gas, water and aggregates for construction.  Sometimes too it involves research into potential hazards such as earthquakes.
The work of a geologist often begins outdoors in the field with the detailed identification of rock types, their nature and structure.  A field geologist will also make observations about the surrounding landscape e.g. recent sediments layered on top of older rocks. The data are then compiled into a geological map showing the distribution and relationships of the various rock types, sediments, etc., their type and ages as determined by any fossils which may be present. Fossils are the remains or traces of plants or animals that lived at that time. They record the evolution of life on earth.

Outdoors - Studying rocks in order to make geological maps
Outdoors - Studying rocks in order to make geological maps

Description of material in the laboratory.
Description of material in the laboratory.
Photo:
www.oceandrilling.org/

These primary observations can then be supplemented by laboratory investigation. This includes the use of modern microscopic techniques; mineral and geochemical analysis and radiometric age dating which can involve the use of sophisticated electronic equipment and, in many cases, computing techniques.

Specialists within the science of geology may be particularly concerned with, for instance:
- the origin and composition of rocks - Petrology;
- the mineral components within rocks - Mineralogy;
- fossils as the relics of former life - Palaeontology;
- the chemical composition of the earth - Geochemistry;
- the physical structure and properties of the earth - Structural Geology and Geophysics;
- or the study of the geology of the deep ocean floor and continental shelves - Marine Geology.


Volcanologists at work
Volcanologists at work on the Piton de la Fournaise, Reunion
Photo: Brian McConnell, GSI




Offshore - Rig floor personnel working on recovering rocks and sediments from the seafloor.
Offshore Rig floor personnel working on recovering rocks and sediments from the seafloor.
Photo:
www.oceandrilling.org/


Additionally, specialists in computing as applied to a variety of aspects of geology have become increasingly important. In the economic field, the location of hydrocarbon (oil/gas), mineral and other deposits, usually involves reconnaissance geophysical surveys by air or sea (e.g. Magnetic. Gravity and Electromagnetic surveys).

Offshore this is followed by more detailed geophysical surveys, particularly reflection seismology, and eventually by drilling. Onshore the follow-up involves detailed geophysical surveys, geochemistry of rocks, soils and streams, geological mapping, prospecting, and eventually drilling.

Geology is becoming increasingly important in urban development, waste disposal, geo-hazard risk analysis, groundwater definition/protection studies and in epidemiological studies (e.g. radon risk analysis), environmental health and planning. In addition, geologists are involved in academic teaching, research and museum curation.

Qualities of a geologist

The field geologist needs to be in good physical condition, able to cope with differing weather conditions, and have good observational skills. The geologist may often have to take sole charge of a project and will therefore require the ability to organise and lead a mixed group of people. He or she must be prepared to work, if overseas, in remote terrains and be prepared to travel widely as project requirements dictate.

However, not all geologists engage in fieldwork. Geology is a multi-disciplinary subject and there are many branches involving laboratory or aerial photographic studies. Geologists should be enthusiastic about their science, have good powers of observation, good judgement and logical thought.



Measuring the electrical conductivity of the spring water to know how long it has been underground .
Field work in Ireland - Measuring the electrical conductivity of the spring water to know how long it has been underground in the rock. Karst spring in Roscommon near Lung Bridge.


The Geophysics technician is setting up a series of devices (geophones) which pick up signals bounced back from sub-surface rock layers with different densities. This project was investigating any faults which might threaten a dam foundation if an earthquake occurred. Field work in Chile.
This Geophysics technician is setting up a series of devices (geophones) which pick up signals bounced back from sub-surface rock layers with different densities. This project was investigating any faults which might threaten a dam foundation if an earthquake occurred. Field work in Chile.
Photo: Orla Dardis, Exploration and Mining Division

How to become a geologist

The first step is to study geology at University or college, or at school if you are lucky enough to have the option. A good background in Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Geography or sciences generally will help qualify you for entry. A degree is the usual minimum for most geological jobs, but a Masters Degree or other postgraduate qualification in a specialised area is often required. More information on studying geology is provided below.

Vacancies for geologists are advertised in the press or more commonly in a variety of professional magazines with which the geological student will soon become acquainted. Bigger companies often make a direct approach to universities to interest students in their particular field of activity and recruit new graduates. In most countries the Geological Survey is a major employer of geologists.

The demand for newly qualified geologists in Ireland is variable and generally dependent on the level of mineral, oil and gas exploration going on. A newly qualified geologist may have to work abroad for a number of years, gaining valuable experience, before a suitable position arises at home.

Practical Training

While still studying a student should, if possible, seek part-time holiday employment either with a commercial geological company or the Geological Survey. Employers who employ newly qualified geologists usually provide training within the industry to suit their own requirements.

Technical Training

This is provided through full-time degree courses. An honours degree in geology is considered to be the basic professional qualification for work as a geologist.


Drilling in Bedrock at Ahascragh, Co.Galway. This hole was the deepest the GSI ever drilled at 567m - providing a picture of the rocks below ground in an area where surface exposures are sparse.
Drilling in Bedrock at Ahascragh, Co.Galway. This hole was the deepest the GSI ever drilled at 567m - providing a picture of the rocks below
ground in an area where surface exposures are sparse.


Observing rock section
Examining rock section.

Employment and promotional prospects

Geologists are primarily employed by the mineral and oil exploration industries but they are also employed by quarrying companies, engineering consultancies, county councils and other government agencies. Employment is also often provided by universities, museums and other research institutes interested in natural resources.  Some companies fill senior management posts from their geological staffs as geology is a good rounded education, even if not pursued as a career. In recent years there has been a demand for geologists in the petroleum exploration industry and in particular in the fields of Hydrogeology (i.e. groundwater exploration), and Environmental Geology.


Demand has also grown in the field of environmental impact studies and protection. The possession of a higher degree with specialisation in a particular field is an obvious benefit in increasing promotional prospects with some employers. These can be obtained through industrial or government grant assistance.


Careers in The Geological Survey of Ireland/Suirbhéireacht Gheolaíochta Éireann

The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) is the National Earth Science Agency. It is responsible for providing geological advice and information, and for the acquisition of data for this purpose. GSI produces a range of products including maps, reports and databases.

The GSI surveying programme and applied programmes include
- Bedrock Geology
- Quaternary Geology
- Marine Geology
- Groundwater
- Minerals
- Geotechnical
- Geological Heritage and Landscape Geology
- and Information Management.
Support services are provided by Information Management, Cartography and Technical Services.


There is a wide range of work for geoscientists in GSI:

Temporary Geological Assistant (TGA): TGA contracts are available for each of the wide variety of programmes. The work can range from fieldwork, working with digital mapping software to working on data compilation and entry, websites and public enquiries. TGA's are usually hired from graduate level and often go on to carry out postgraduate studies.

Temporary Project Geologist (TPG)
: In the GSI geologists often work on a specific project in their specialised field. Projects such as groundwater protection, geological heritage, mineral potential mapping and information management are examples of work done by the GSI project geologists. TPG's usually require a postgraduate qualification in the project field.

GSI Geologists
: Permanent staff geologists in the GSI work in the programme of their specialised area of expertise, and their role can differ from project work, to programme, budget and staff management. They can work at any level from Geologist to Director of the GSI.



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