Marine geologists study ocean basins, surfaces, continental shelves and other physical features. They help detect plate movements, underwater volcanoes and sources of energy. Marine geologists' findings and discoveries shed light on climate, weather, ocean history and earthquakes, and can influence energy supply, environmental protection, public policy and the economy.
Marine geology is a discipline of oceanography and, according to Scripps Institution of Oceanography, oceanographers with a bachelor's degree averaged $33,254 in 2009; the averages rise to a range of $37,000 to $49,452 for postdoctoral researchers. Tenured professors of marine geology or oceanography can expect annual salaries of at least $100,000 to $150,000, Scripps reported. Government-employed marine geologists averaged $105,671 in 2009. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which includes oceanographers in the geoscientist field, reported their mean salaries in May 2010 as $82,500 overall and $125,350 for those working for oil and gas companies.
Pay for marine geologists is influenced by education level, experience and type of employer. On average, marine and other geologists earn more at energy companies than at government agencies where budget constraints often suppress salaries. A doctorate or master's degree can enhance earnings potential. Marine geologists who hold these degrees are more likely to land management or tenured professorships.
Working Conditions and Tools
Marine geologists spend several days, often months, at sea researching, mapping underwater volcanoes and other ocean features, or assisting with oil exploration. The time spent away from home and in the natural elements can exact physical tolls. On-shore work places marine geologists in laboratories and offices to analyze maps and data obtained from the field. Technology is a major part of a marine geologist's work. Geologists, especially at sea, use global positioning systems, computers, programmable instruments and remote-control vehicles. Software helps geologists analyze data and maps.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 21 percent rise in geoscience jobs between 2010 and 2020. High oil prices spur oil and gas exploration and production, which means greater opportunities for marine and other geologists who work for oil and gas companies. When oil prices decrease, however, energy companies explore less and hire fewer geologists. According to the BLS, employment by government agencies could decline because of budget constraints and the trend toward contracting private consultants.