Geophysics is often described as "quantitative geology," but that might be considered a disservice to both disciplines. The "Random House Dictionary" offers a more traditional definition of geophysics: "The branch of geology that deals with the physics of the earth and its atmosphere, including oceanography, seismology, volcanology, and geomagnetism."
Geophysicists are in great demand in both the public and private sector, especially given the continued strong growth in the oil, gas and mineral exploration industries.
The Education of a Geophysicist
Most geophysicists begin with a bachelor's degree in geology, environmental science, earth science or geoscience. A growing number of schools, such as the University of Houston and the University of Texas at Austin, are beginning to offer undergraduate geophysics degree programs. Nearly all professional geophysicists also have at least one graduate degree. Many have both a master's and a doctoral degree, especially those employed in academia or senior government agency positions.
Geoscientist and Geophysicist Job Prospects
The growing international demand for resources and the need for resource assessment and management means geoscientists of all types, including geophysicists, are in great demand. Practicing geophysicist Aaron Girard says the demand for geophysicists is high. "The energy industry is just grasping at straws for people with geophysics experience...During grad school, I got four job offers all in the Houston area. I graduated and started work at WesternGeco, a subsidiary of Schlumberger, two weeks later." According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), geoscientist jobs are expected to increase by a robust 21 percent from 2010 to 2020. That is 50 percent higher than the 14 percent average growth rate for all jobs. The BLS also reports that 9,640 new geoscientist jobs were added in 2012. The University of Leeds School of Earth and Environment also reports that the demand for geophysicists is high.
Oil and Gas Industry Growth
The continued strong growth of the oil and gas exploration sector, as well as the coal and metals mining sector, has kept demand for skilled geophysicists high. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, total U.S. private sector employment grew by around 1 percent from 2007 through the end of 2012, while jobs in the oil and gas industry increased by more than 40 percent during that same period.
Geoscientists earn well above-average wages. According to the PayScale, geoscientists earned a median annual wage of $105,776 in 2012. The top earners in this group earned $205,000 annually. At the bottom of the scale, geophysicists earned approximately $50,000 per year. Geoscientists employed in the oil and gas exploration industry usually earn the highest wages. For example, according to PayScale, the highest paid geophysicists at Shell Oil earned over $260,000 in 2012.
2016 Salary Information for Geoscientists
Geoscientists earned a median annual salary of $89,780 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, geoscientists earned a 25th percentile salary of $62,830, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $127,620, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 32,000 people were employed in the U.S. as geoscientists.