How Do I Become an Environmental Geologist?

Explore the career requirements for environmental geologists. Get the facts about education requirements, job duties, salary and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Environmental Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Environmental Geologist?

As an environmental geologist, you could help keep the environment safe by examining underground rock and soil for chemical leaks or managing wetlands to prevent erosion. This often involves collecting and analyzing samples, making or updating maps and charts and conducting various field studies. Environmental geologists report their findings in scientific reports that are available to the public, colleagues and other groups. Depending on their place of work, they may oversee technicians in the field or lab to ensure the quality of their work. The following table gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree for entry-level; master's degree preferred
Education Field of Study Geology, environmental science
Key Skills Computer modeling, GIS, investigative research/reporting, field work, data analysis
Licensure Required License required in some states
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10%*
Average Salary (2015) $105,720*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Education Do I Need to Become an Environmental Geologist?

A bachelor's degree in environmental science or geology is the minimum requirement for entry-level jobs in environmental geology. However, master's degrees are the preferred credential, particularly if you'd like to work for state or federal government agencies or perform research in the private sector. For the best preparation for this career, look for bachelor's degree programs with classes in paleontology, mineralogy and structural geology.

As part of your environmental science master's curriculum, you might take classes in soil and water chemistry, economics, hydrology, water quality management and organic geochemistry. Geology master's programs might offer courses like geology laboratory, engineering geology, ground water hydrology and oceanology. A dissertation, thesis or independent study project might be required to complete your master's program.

What Other Qualifications Might I Need?

Along with computer systems knowledge, you'll need experience with computer modeling and Geographic Information Systems. It would be beneficial to have good communication skills and be able to work as part of a team of scientists, engineers and technicians. An internship can give you the field experience that many employers seek. Licensing might be necessary, depending upon the state in which you work. Analytic-thinking skills and knowledge of foreign languages could also be helpful.

What Job Duties Might I Have?

Chemicals used in various industries sometimes leak into the ground, thus polluting the water supply and posing a risk to the safety and health of people and wildlife. Environmental geologists are familiar with the movement of ground water, and they use their expertise to minimize potential health risks. Those who work for the federal government might be required to submit investigative reports as to the whereabouts of chemical leaks. The information from the reports might be used to determine how to prevent the spread of underground chemical spills and clean up water supplies and contaminated areas.

Environmental geologists also work with other professionals to help relocate landfills to lower-risk areas. They monitor the levels of unsafe methane gases that are emanated by decomposing matter in landfills and take measures to ensure the gases don't drift into any nearby residential areas. Additionally, they study natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes and floods. Environmental geologists spend a large amount of time out of the office collecting data and samples. Work is also performed in laboratory and office environments.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some related jobs that require a bachelor's degree include those of environmental engineers and hydrologists. Environmental engineers solve environmental problems by applying their knowledge of natural science and engineering. They work to improve things like pollution, recycling efforts and public health. Hydrologists study water movement and try to improve water quality. Anthropologists and archaeologists also have similar positions, but they require a master's degree. These professionals study cultures and archaeological remains to learn more about human behavior in different parts of the world.

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