Geophysicists study the physical make-up and workings of the Earth. This includes its origin and evolution, the formation of natural resources, motion inside the Earth's core, and the dynamics of gravity, the oceans and the atmosphere. Many geophysicists apply their knowledge to finding, extracting and managing resources such as water, oil, gas and minerals.
As a Geophysicist, you will be able to find out the physical structure, origin and workings of the Earth by studying, analysing and mapping features such as rocks, oceans and river sediments.
In fieldwork, you will use technology such as magnetometers to measure the Earth's magnetic field, and gravity meters.
You will be studying physical features, including how rock types have been folded, fractured and otherwise changed by geological processes, such as the collision of continents.
Geophysicists work out the age of rocks and chart their evolution. This information leads to the production of maps and databases, which are essential tools in all areas of geoscience.
You might be monitoring earthquakes and volcanoes, using your research to predict eruptions and quakes, and therefore to save lives.
The main area where you will be applying your knowledge is finding and extracting natural resources from beneath the Earth's surface. Exploration Geophysicists understand how resources such as oil, gas and minerals are formed, and where they are likely to be found. This is by collecting and analysing physical data to confirm your predictions.
The process of finding a natural resource usually begins with desk-based research and fieldwork. You will be studying:
- geophysical maps
- seismic surveys
- aerial photographs
- satellite images
You will also investigate layers of rock and resource reserves by overseeing the drilling of boreholes and then lowering cameras into the holes to see the layers in place.
Having found a natural resource, you must predict the amount of the resource that could be made available by mining or drilling. Your advice helps to decide whether it will be economically worthwhile to start the extraction process. Extraction is removing the resource from the ground.
Exploration Geophysicists must also ensure the safety and suitability of the land for exploration. You will consider physical conditions such as soil, rock and groundwater. This includes investigating factors such as bedrock strength, and evidence of potential landslips, mudslides and earthquakes.
You might be using computers to produce three-dimensional models of mines and oil platforms. These help in designing the site, planning extraction, and simulating the work's environmental impact.
Throughout the process, you will need to record your results and present them in reports. Then, you will discuss your findings with other members of the team, such as Mineral Geologists, Engineers and Quarry Managers.
Apart from exploration work, you might advise on environmental issues such as safe landfill sites and uses for abandoned mines and quarries. This is by assessing the suitability of surrounding rocks, pollution in fluid can seep from landfill and mine sites into nearby rivers.
You will also investigate alternative sources of energy, including geothermal energy, which is heat stored beneath the Earth's surface.
Geophysicists also research and teach in universities, and work in research institutions and scientific journalism.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Geophysicist, you'll need:
- maths and physics knowledge, as well as an interest in the Earth
- observation and problem-solving skills
- a logical, methodical approach to your work
- teamwork skills
- the ability to read and create maps, displays and charts
- ICT skills, for example, to process and analyse data, and create computer models
- the ability to explain your findings and give advice clearly and concisely, including in presentations and written reports
An awareness of environmental issues is increasingly important.
Good colour vision is very important in most areas of geology because of the need to describe and recognise the subtle colour characteristics of rocks and minerals, and to read geological maps, which depend on colour to indicate different rock types.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £29,500 - £33,500
- With experience: £36,000 - £43,000
- Senior Geophysicists earn £44,500
Hours of work
Geophysicists usually work around 35-40 hours, Monday to Friday. However, you might need to have early starts, late finishes and some weekend work.
Where could I work?
Employers are companies involved in the oil, gas, mining and water industries. The nuclear industry employs some Geophysicists.
Specialist survey companies also employ Geophysicists to locate natural resources and to map geophysical features.
There can be opportunities in government departments, or with organisations such as the British Geological Survey and British Antarctic Survey. Some Geophysicists work for university research departments.
Opportunities for Geophysicists occur in towns, cities and rural areas throughout the UK.
Most Geophysicists are office-based but have opportunities to travel for fieldwork, meetings and conferences.
There are also opportunities to work in many other countries, either for UK-based companies or overseas employers.
It's possible to become a self-employed consultant, for example, gathering and analysing data for oil and gas companies.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised on the Geological Society website, in science magazines such as New Scientist (which also posts jobs on its website), on specialist job boards for the oil, gas and coal industries such as OilCareers.com, oilandgaspeople.com and Earthworks-Jobs.com, academic recruitment sites and in national newspapers.
GreenJobs is a job board aimed at people interested in green careers:
Entry Routes and Training
To become a Geophysicist, you'll usually need at least a relevant first (undergraduate) degree. Many entrants also have a postgraduate qualification such as a MSc.
Specialist degrees in geophysics and geophysical sciences are available.
Entry is also possible with a first degree in general geology or geoscience, a combined degree in geology and physics, or a subject containing significant amounts of geology, maths and physics.
There are several different types of first (undergraduate) degree course. BSc (Hons) degrees usually take three years to complete (four in Scotland). MGeol/MSci degrees are four-year courses, allowing for a wider range of taught subjects and research than in the BSc.
Some universities offer degree courses with a foundation year. This is an extra year for students who don't have the specified science A levels for entry.
The Geological Society accredits a number of first degree courses, including in geophysics. Accreditation demonstrates that the university department's teaching is of a high quality.
Postgraduate MSc courses in geophysics are widely available. You'll usually need a PhD for entry to a research post in industry or for a vacancy in a university or museum. The Geological Society accredits a number of postgraduate courses.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
Some entrants have the relevant experience as an Geophysicist. Having an accredited degree reduces the amount of experience you need before you can achieve Chartered Geologist and Chartered Scientist status through the Society. You can find a list of accredited courses on The Geological Society's website.
You might have on-the-job training, combined with short courses and going to conferences and seminars. Some employers enable Geophysicists to complete a postgraduate qualification while working.
The Geological Society runs a continuing professional development scheme.
You could be promoted to a senior position or a management role.
Usually with a relevant degree or equivalent, you can become a Fellow of the Geological Society. Then, with at least five years' relevant experience, you can apply for Chartered Geologist (CGeol) status. You can also achieve Chartered Scientist (CSci) status through the Society.
Experienced Geophysicists can become self-employed consultants. For example, they gather and interpret seismic data for oil and gas companies.
For entry to a degree in geophysics, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels, including maths and physics
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above
You might need English language.
Equivalent qualifications, such as the International Baccalaureate Diploma, can be acceptable for entry.
BTEC level 3 qualifications might also be acceptable for entry. However, some universities will accept these only alongside the specified academic A levels.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter a degree course, you might be able to start one after completing an Access course, for example, Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to enter an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
A foundation year before the start of a science degree is available at some universities and higher education colleges for students who don't have the science A levels usually needed for entry to the course.
Birkbeck, University of London offers degree and postgraduate courses in geology and earth sciences on a flexible basis: part-time (evenings) or by distance learning.
A number of other universities offer part-time degree courses in geology and Earth science.
The Open University offers a degree in Geosciences and a postgraduate degree in Earth Science, by distance learning.
Funding for postgraduate study and research is available, through universities, from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
- 6% of people in occupations such as geophysics work part-time.
- 14% have flexible hours.
- 8% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far
National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)
Tel: 0800 015 0400
Publisher: Reed Business Information Ltd
Open University (OU)
Tel: 0845 3006090
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Address: Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411500
Construction Industry Training Board (CITB)
Address: Blue Court, Church Lane, Kings Langley, Hertfordshire WD4 8JP
Tel: 01923 260000
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Address: Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1ET
Tel: 01793 444000
Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)
Address: 15 John Street, London WC1N 2EB
Tel: 020 7831 3110
Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG
Tel: 020 7434 9944
Address: Rockwatch at the GA, Burlington House, Piccadilly London W1J 0DU
Tel: 020 7734 5398
Tel: 0207 997 7624
Institute of Physics (IOP)
Address: 76 Portland Place, London W1B 1NT
Tel: 020 7470 4800
Tel: 01224 787830