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The Difference Between Geology and Geoscience
While both of these terms might just be a way to describe the “rock people” for some outside observers, they are in fact very distinct. Most people are likely familiar with Geology, relating to rock formations, composition, and landscapes. The primary study areas of Geology aim to map geographic areas, discover resources, and study the history of the Earth through rock records. Geoscience on the other hand is much more interdisciplinary.
It’s more difficult to say the main study areas of Geoscience because it covers such a wide range of topics. In fact, Geology itself is one of those topics. But Geoscience also includes the study of the atmosphere, oceans, and even space. This means Geoscientists perform work that Geologists cannot, such as overseeing pollution remediation, studying climate change, advising the management of resources, or even studying the behavior of other planets.
Why Is Geoscience Important?
Geoscience gives us the tools to understand the physical world around us and how it is constantly changing. We need this understanding to help us adapt to the changes, or in some cases, prevent them. Currently, there are five main areas of Geoscience that we focus on due to their great impact on humans:
Climate refers not just to local weather phenomena such as storms or heat waves, but to average global weather conditions over extended time periods. The primary concern these days is the rise of average temperatures and CO2 content measured over centuries. This rise in average temperatures is called Climate Change, or Global Warming, and has a range of effects.
It warms the oceans, worsening local weather conditions and further releasing CO2 from the water into the atmosphere. It decreases food production from coral reefs in warm waters, as well as crops in areas experiencing harsh weather. The goal of Geoscience in this area is determining what changes are occurring, how we affect them, and how we can prevent them.
Energy sources and usage are critical today because of their effects on the environment and Climate Change. Our sources of energy have changed over time generally from wood, to coal, to oil, to natural gas, and now to sustainables and renewables. Previous fuel sources such as wood were difficult to sustain; some populations started running out of wood fairly quickly as their populations grew.
They also produce harmful gases and particulate matter. Wood and coal produced so much that it was very obvious and immediately harmful, making the change to oil and natural gas something that didn’t require much convincing. Now, although oil- and gas-powered machines don’t produce huge puffs of particulate matter in our daily lives, they do produce gases that contaminate the atmosphere.
The primary job of Geoscience now is to prove that these gases cause harm by contributing to Climate Change, and to find alternatives. Geothermal, hydropower, tidal, biomass, wind and solar sources are all viable alternatives with greatly reduced environmental effects. Because we harness them at the surface of the Earth, they all involve some amount of Geoscience in their research and production, although some more than others.
Even before the age of modern Climate Change, natural hazards and disasters plagued human health and safety. Landslides, earthquakes, storms, fires, droughts, and floods cost many lives and billions of dollars in damages every year.
Geoscience finds ways to predict, prevent, and mitigate these hazards. Geoscientists assist with city planning to help infrastructure either avoid hazards from the get-go, or better prepare for them. Periodic measurements of seismic activity, temperatures, precipitation, and other factors can help predict events, or at least give advanced warning to nearby populations as they occur.
As population and standards of living steadily increase, so does the global demand for resources. But with a finite supply of resources, we need to carefully evaluate their extraction, distribution, and consumption.
Geoscientists primarily assist with locating and extracting resources in the most effective and efficient ways. But they also study resource usage and its effect on the environment or human populations.
Water is the root of life on the planet, making it the most essential and precious resource for society. It interacts intricately with Earth systems studied by Geoscientists, such as the rock, climate, and carbon cycles.
Geoscience studies these cycles and our interaction with them as a species. Climate Change and increased population result in drought, floods, groundwater depletion, and tight distribution. Tackling these problems is vital to ensure clean and secure water sources to meet society’s needs.
Because Geoscience is so interdisciplinary, it provides opportunities to enter many fields and professions. Many people with a bachelor’s in Geoscience will go on to continue higher education with a master’s or PhD. This typically means choosing a narrower field within the Geosciences to specialize in.
With a higher degree in a specialization, one can pursue research to contribute to emerging science in the field. Or, the specialization can lead to a more advanced job position in a particular area. Even with only a bachelor’s, there are many options for career paths. Many Geoscience bachelor’s degrees are broad, lacking much in the way of a specialization. This can allow more flexibility in testing out different career paths.
Industries that commonly hire Geoscientists include resource extraction, exploration, energy development, natural disaster prevention, and government departments. Working for private companies in these fields is likely to be more financially lucrative, but government positions may be more interesting. Be sure to research potential organizations to find the ideal spot and see what qualities they prefer in entry-level hires.
In addition to a degree, some Geoscientists must obtain registration or a license to work, depending on location and job position. For example, Geologists covering public services in a government agency must be licensed in many states. Public services include civil engineering projects, governmental regulatory compliance, and environmental protection.
To achieve licensing, Geoscientists must meet minimum requirements in education and experience in addition to passing an exam. For geologists specifically, the exam is the Fundamentals of Geology Exam by the National Association of State Boards of Geology.
Engineers in the Geoscience field, such as geologic engineers or geophysical engineers, will also need to pass engineering-specific exams. However, the necessity of the exams depends on the field of work. Private sectors may not require the exam, and only consider experience and skill as demonstrated from previous jobs.
The Daily Work of a Geoscientist
Professional Geoscientists focus on scientific activities in their day to day work. They often plan and carry out a great deal of field work and studies, collecting samples and data from natural formations and events.
Field work can entail direct interaction with natural specimens, such as collecting rock samples, taking well logs, or measuring features. The work can also be less direct, such as taking aerial photographs from planes for making maps or charts, or setting up measurement stations which automatically take periodic measurements over a long period of time.
Whatever samples or information is gathered from the field is then used in a variety of ways. Some samples are measured and go through experiments to test scientific hypotheses. Some findings are presented to other non-Geoscientists for use in larger projects.
Outside of the field and the lab, many modern Geoscientists use computers to get the job done. Advanced programs and software are designed specifically for processing Geoscientific data from collection methods like ground-penetrating radar and remote sensing equipment. The software pieces together the data, using it to model landforms or analyze patterns.
As Geoscientists advance up the chain of command throughout their career, they likely do less and less field or even analysis work. Supervision and management become their primary responsibilities as they watch over and help train the newer generations coming into the industry.
Geoscience Careers, Pay, Benefits, and Demand
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Geoscientists in the US made a median pay of 89,850 dollars as of 2017. That is about 43 dollars per hour, or over five times the federal minimum wage. This is also typically for an entry level education level of just a bachelor’s degree, although higher degrees have the potential to earn even more.
The BLS estimates the growth rate for Geoscientists at about 14% between 2016 and 2026. Given that the average growth rate for most jobs in the US is only 7%, this is a very high growth likely to result in thousands of additional job openings.
As the field grows, expect changes in what has typically been associated with Geoscience jobs. Previously, they were strongly associated with oil and gas exploration, as well as general exploration and surveying. Over the coming decades, Geoscience will be more about evaluating alternative energy sources, as well as maintaining sustainability of resources we currently use.
Thus, jobs in renewable and sustainable sources such as wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal should increase in the near future. Governments will also continue to hire Geoscientists to evaluate the planning and maintenance of cities. Large cities have huge impacts on the land they are built on and local resources such as aquifers where they draw their water from. Geoscientists can help minimize the negative effects of cities on these resources to avoid shortages or permanent damages.