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Geophysicist

Kaimātai Pūtaiao Whenua

Alternative titles for this job

Geophysicists use data-collecting technology to study natural processes of the Earth such as earthquake and volcanic activity, and to locate minerals, oil and gas, or ground water.

Pay

Geophysicists usually earn

$65K-$110K per year

Senior geophysicists may earn

$95K-$170K per year

Source: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), 2017.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting work as a geophysicist are average, with demand growing for workers in environmental and engineering companies.

Pay

Pay for geophysicists varies depending on level of qualification, experience, employer and field of work.

Geophysicists working in government research organisations and universities usually start out at $65,000 to $90,000 a year. Those working in senior roles can earn $95,000 to $130,000. 

Geophysicists working in the private sector usually start out at $80,000 to $110,000 a year. Those working in senior roles can earn from $110,000 to $170,000.  

Source: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), 2017.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Geophysicists may do some or all of the following:

  • study the physical properties of the Earth, including geological layers, oceans and atmosphere
  • study the properties of rocks and other planets
  • look for and study oil, gas, groundwater and mineral deposits
  • study the patterns of eruption of active and dormant volcanoes
  • study risks to coastlines from storms and tsunamis
  • measure gravity, earthquakes, electrical fields and magnetic fields
  • process data and measurements taken from global positioning system (GPS) equipment
  • provide information for search and rescue missions
  • advise central and local government, civil defence and other organisations about risks from volcanoes, for example
  • carry out research and experiments, and develop numerical models to support their hypotheses
  • write research papers and reports based on the results of their studies
  • teach at universities and supervise students' research projects.

 

Skills and knowledge

Geophysicists need to have knowledge of:

  • the principles of physics and the geological nature of the Earth, including minerals, rocks and soils, and the processes that operate on them over time
  • the marine environment
  • how volcanoes behave
  • the causes of earthquakes
  • how to perform experiments and operate scientific equipment that collects and records data 
  • how to analyse and interpret research results and other information.

Working conditions

Geophysicists:

  • in research institutes usually work regular business hours, but may work long, irregular hours when carrying out experiments
  • may work in offices, universities, laboratories, mines, on drilling platforms or at building sites
  • may work in extreme weather on mountains or at sea, or underground in dark, dirty and cramped conditions
  • may travel nationally or overseas to do fieldwork, or attend conferences.

What's the job really like?

Hai Zhu

Hai Zhu - Geophysicist

Geophysics is a good job to be in if you have a questioning mind – there are always endless questions in geophysics, says Hai Zhu.

Looking for oil and gas

For the last 15 years Hai Zhu has specialised in seismic exploration, working mainly in regions like Canterbury, the East Coast and the Taranaki Basin.

"We research and compile data to find where the best areas are for oil and gas potential, so we can then guide the oil companies to them."

Infinite possibilities lie under the earth

Hai says people often get confused when they hear about seismic exploration, thinking that it's to do with earthquakes. "But you are trying to detect what happens underneath the earth by sending in artificial sound waves with scientific devices.

"Earthquake seismology is different because the sound waves are created naturally by the earthquakes.

"I think the good part of geophysics is that you are always thinking of a solution. Sometimes this can be the bad part too because you never stop. The doctor who operates on a patient can see what is inside the body, but we can't because we can't open up the Earth!"

What's hot

  • Getting to travel overseas to do fieldwork.
  • Solving scientific puzzles.

What's not

  • Sometimes having to work in extreme conditions.
  • Having to study to Masters and more commonly PhD level.

Entry requirements

To become a geophysicist you need a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in physics, geophysics or geology. However, most employers prefer you to have a Masters or PhD. Some people working as geophysicists may have degrees in maths or statistics, oceanography, engineering, marine science or biology.

In some areas of geophysics, such as oceanography, where competition for positions is high, you may have better chances of getting work if you study two sciences.

Secondary education

A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include physics, chemistry, maths, geography and English.

Personal requirements

Geophysicists need to be:

  • comfortable working outdoors
  • accurate and observant
  • enquiring
  • patient
  • good at planning and problem solving
  • good at communicating
  • able to write reports
  • good at maths.

Useful experience

Useful experience for geophysicists includes:

  • work as a computer programmer
  • work in electronics
  • work as a geological field assistant or science technician
  • any practical marine work such as scuba diving.

Physical requirements

Geophysicists need to be reasonably fit and healthy to do fieldwork, which is normally a small part of their role. Fieldwork can involve conducting experiments in extreme environments, walking in remote locations, carrying heavy equipment or working in rough seas. 

Find out more about training

Institute of Earth Science and Engineering
        (09) 373 7599 ext 83932 - shortcourses@iese.co.nz - www.iese.co.nz
Petroleum Skills Association
        (06) 757 3708 - slongpepanz@gmail.com - www.petroleumskills.co.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Demand for geophysicists in private sector variable 

Chances of getting a job in the private sector varies. Opportunities are good for geophysicists working for environmental and engineering companies, including in areas such as:  

  • groundwater exploration, because as droughts increase demand grows for geophysicists to locate new water sources
  • infrastructure, because the Government is focusing on developing this and needs advice on whether sites are suitable for large constructions such as bridges.

Limited opportunities for oceanographic and volcanologist researchers

Opportunities for geophysicists specialising in research such as volcanology or oceanography are limited because:

  • these are very small fields of research in New Zealand
  • turnover is low, so competition is high for the few vacancies that do arise
  • government funding is low in these fields of geophysics.

Types of employers varied

Most geophysicists in New Zealand work for Crown research institutes such as:

  • the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS Science)
  • the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)
  • Landcare Research.

Geophysicists may also work for:

  • universities, as teachers and lecturers
  • ministries and government departments such as New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals, as policy developers and advisers
  • consultancies and private companies, including engineering firms and mining and drilling companies
  • local authorities such as regional and city councils
  • state-owned enterprises such as MetService or Meridian Energy. 

Sources

  • Hollins, K, human resources manager, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Careers New Zealand interview, March 2017.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Geophysicists may specialise in roles such as:

Oceanographer
Oceanographers study the oceans and the marine environment.
Seismologist
Seismologists study earthquakes and artificially produced vibrations of the Earth. 
Volcanologist
Volcanologists study volcanoes and monitor volcanic activity.
Tony Hurst kneeling on rocks, setting up experiment equipment

Tony Hurst setting up an experiment at a volcanic crater

Last updated 30 May 2018