Green Jobs in Geosciences - dummies

By Carol L. McClelland

Studying the planet — which is, in essence, what the geosciences are all about — is one of the foundations of environmental science and a key component to a sustainable future. A green job search, particularly for someone with a science/technology background or an interest in geological management, will yield eco-conscious opportunities in this field.

Typically geosciences are divided into four fields:

  • Geography is the study of earth, including human geography, which refers to the built environment, and physical geography, which consists of the natural environment. A new focus is environmental geography, which looks at the interactions between humans and the environment — to attempt to understand how the environment is created, managed, and used.

  • Geology is the study of the physical properties of the solid and liquid materials that make up the Earth, their history, and the processes that create and change them. Often this field is involved in mineral and hydrocarbon extraction, as well as using the physical aspects of the planet to understand past climates.

  • Geophysics looks at the entire Earth as a whole. Using quantitative instruments and the principles of physics, geophysicists explore various parts of the Earth, from the core to tectonic plates. Such observations are used to identify petroleum reservoirs, mineral deposits, and groundwater sources.

  • Geodesy is a branch of applied mathematics that specializes in measuring the Earth to determine its shape and size.

According to the American Geological Institute, the field of geosciences is difficult to define because different organizations use different systems to categorize the various elements of the field.

Future trends in geosciences

The geosciences industry is facing a critical time as the workforce ages and the number of new scientists and engineers declines. Referred to as the “Great Crew Change,” this challenge concerns those tracking the long-term status of this industry.

To help geosciences and all the sciences stay competitive, the federal government has several programs to encourage students of all ages to become interested, involved, and competent in scientific endeavors:

  • The American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) provides federal funds toward research and education in the physical sciences. First mentioned by President Bush in his State of the Union Address in 2006, this initiative runs for ten years.

  • The America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science) Act signed into law by President Bush in 2007 focuses on improving education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contributes $5.2 billion to several organizations committed to doing the work of these initiatives, aligning their budgets with the original vision.

While the industry is contending with negative workforce trends, it also faces considerable changes in the focus of the work done by geoscientists. First, oil and gas reserves are likely to be more difficult to find as supplies dwindle. To keep up with demand and production goals, geoscientists will turn to technology to help them identify reserves and create new methods to extract energy from these new areas. Second, as the push toward more environmentally sustainable energy sources heats up, geoscientists will apply their skills and knowledge to new areas, including clean coal, reusable carbon dioxide, and finding water.

Sample jobs in geosciences

The American Geological Association recently created a working definition of the following functions within the geosciences industry:

  • Geoscientists work in a number of subfields, including environmental science, hydrology, oceanography, atmospheric science, geology, geophysics, climate science, geochemistry, and paleontology.

  • Geoengineers may work in the environmental area to develop water supplies or remediate hazardous areas, or they may work in exploration to locate and mine various building materials, metals, coal, and oil.

  • Geotechnical specialists focus on understanding the structure of soil and rocks. With this knowledge they design, assess, and inspect building foundations.

  • Geomanagers plan, oversee, and coordinate geoengineering and geoscience projects in the field.