What Is an Environmental Geologist?

Research what it takes to become an environmental geologist. Learn about degree programs, job duties and potential salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Environmental Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Environmental Geologist?

Environmental geologists can work in a variety of industries, providing consulting, research and hands-on exploration. They do field studies, take samples, perform laboratory tests and present their findings. During their testing, environmental geologists may also create maps to aid in the research process. Environmental geologists normally write reports on the information they found as well as review other scientists' reports to help with research. Many times geologists supervise technicians who assist them with testing and other research.

The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree for most entry-level jobs
Education Field of Study Mathematics; mineralogy; petrology; paleontology
Key Responsibilities Study surface water flow to mitigate erosion; evaluate permeability of soil and rock to determine best sites for building and infrastructure projects
Job Growth (2018-2028) 6%* (geoscientists, except hydrologists and geographers)
Median Salary (2019) $58,724** (all geologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Programs in Environmental Geology Are Available?

Although a bachelor's degree could be sufficient for low-level positions, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that you'll have better employment prospects with a master's degree (www.bls.gov). Several schools offer environmental geology programs at both degree levels that synthesize concepts from mathematics, paleontology and the hard sciences - biology, chemistry and physics - to study the planet as a whole system.

Program content examines the composition of the Earth, its thermal and hydrologic processes and how these have fostered and interacted with life over time. You could also study mineralogy, petrology, stratigraphy and element cycles. You'll need to complete general education courses in the arts, humanities and social sciences during a bachelor's degree program. Master's programs typically require you to perform significant research and write an original thesis.

What is the Outlook for the Profession?

Local, state and federal agencies, engineering services firms, environmental consulting firms, mining companies and waste management companies are among your potential employers. The BLS stated that approximately 31,000 people were employed as geoscientists in 2018, and jobs for the profession were projected to increase by 6% by 2028. Additionally, 85,000 environmental scientists worked in several industries, including consulting and government agencies, and the BLS estimated an 8% increase in demand for more professionals between 2018 and 2028. Growth was anticipated to be driven by public expectation of responsible business practices regarding the environment, infrastructure expansion projects and environmental sustainability in the face of rising populations.

What Role or Purpose Will I Serve?

Your objective will be to prevent or minimize damage to the environment from land development and infrastructure projects, as well as repair damage caused by past projects or current practices. For example, you might evaluate the flow of surface waters - creeks, streams and rivers - studying how their channels have migrated over time to find a solution that limits erosion. You might also examine soil and rock, evaluate its permeability and model the movement of subsurface water to help choose a site for a landfill or industrial plant that won't contaminate groundwater. The same process of evaluation could assist with the control and removal of contaminated water or hazardous chemicals and gasses from abandoned mines, landfills or factories.

What Could I Expect to Earn?

According to October 2016 data provided by Payscale.com, most geologists earned between $39,514 and $107,216 per year, the median being $58,692. The salary website stated that those who worked as program managers in environmental consulting made approximately $33,000-$138,130, with a median salary of $97,862. Geologists with the highest wages were reported to provide exploration services for oil and gas companies, with those in the 90th percentile earning as much as $199,523, as of October 2016.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some alternative career options that all require a bachelor's degree include civil engineering, environmental engineering and hydrology. Civil engineers create, build and maintain roads, bridges, tunnels and other similar construction projects. Environmental engineers work towards finding solutions to environmental issues including recycling, waste disposal and pollution control. Hydrologists research how to solve issues with water value and accessibility by understanding how water moves.

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