Geophysicists study the physical aspects of the earth using a range of methods, including gravity, magnetic, electrical and seismic. They play a vital role in the oil and gas industries by creating a picture of what lies below the earth’s surface. They do this by collecting data on seismic waves, which move through and around the earth.

Geophysicists are responsible for controlling the quality of the seismic data collected and interpreting it in order to create maps of the buildup of hydrocarbons. They also examine the physical properties of rocks, as well as gathering and evaluating well data in order to build reservoir models. Geophysicists generally work in one of three areas: acquisition; processing; and interpretation.

Job descriptions and job titles vary according to your area of employment. However, geophysicists/field seismologists are generally involved in undertaking seismic exploration and producing controlled source seismic data for oil and gas companies or consultancies. Some geophysicists/field seismologists may be involved in providing environmental consultancy, for example the investigation of landfill sites using geophysical techniques, or may work within a research institute to investigate seismological structures and provide seismological information to the public and government.


Typical Work Activities

  • Pre-planning projects before going on site.
  • Designing data acquisition plans.
  • Deciding on suitable seismic measurement and data-processing techniques.
  • Taking equipment out to various locations around the world and deploying seismometers.
  • Observing the reaction of recording equipment to detect irregularities.
  • Using computers for data management, quality control and communication between the office and field locations.
  • Interpreting and mapping of 2d and 3d seismic data.
  • Reporting on collected seismic data to the team, clients, senior managers or partners at meetings and presentations.
  • Measuring reservoir volumes.
  • Assessing potential oil and gas yield.
  • Thinking quickly and independently to solve problems, often with limited resources in remote locations.
  • Designing, testing, modifying and repairing seismic equipment.
  • Adapting data collection procedures.
  • Working closely with a small team of scientists and other staff who may be away in the field or offshore for several weeks at a time.
  • Compiling charts and reports.
  • Writing documentation and work logs.
  • Providing a wide range of geophysical support and technical advice and guidance.
  • Keeping abreast of new and emerging technologies.
  • Improving existing techniques in data acquisition and mathematical processing, as well as seeking to develop new techniques and methods.
  • Working within budget, resource and time constraints.


Technical Skills

  • Good IT skills to process data and produce three-dimensional models of geophysical features.
  • Numerical skills.
  • Project management skills.
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills.
  • Flexibility and adaptability.
  • Attention to detail and the ability to record information accurately.
  • The ability to express ideas and findings clearly, both orally and in writing to produce reports and make presentations.
  • Team working skills.
  • The ability to work to deadlines and under pressure.
  • A desire to travel – worldwide travel is a key feature of this career.
  • Commitment to continual learning.

Good colour vision is also needed as the work may involve interpreting geological maps and differentiating between various rocks and minerals. A driving licence and evidence of good health may be required for some postings. For overseas work, a second language is an advantage, as well as cultural awareness and communication skills.


Career Development

After a probationary period, progression might be to senior geophysicist, then team leader and then into a senior role in management. It is also possible to move into a specialist technical role or a generalist role with increased responsibility. The ease of movement between roles depends on the company structure.

Study at Masters or PhD level in a subject related to geophysics or geosciences may help with career development and progression. Membership of relevant organisations can be useful for networking and making contacts.

The employment market within the oil and gas industry is very dependent on price and this may affect opportunities for career progression. The amount of jobs available may change as a consequence of mergers between large petrochemical and exploration companies. However, not all jobs are dependent on the oil and gas industries.

Freelance consultancy offers a good route for career development as well as the possibility of specialising in a specific area of geophysics. Geophysicists/field seismologists are likely to have several jobs throughout their working lives. Global mobility is crucial for dealing with peaks and troughs in different countries at different times. For example, if there is very little work in the UK in mining, geophysicists may choose to move to South Africa.

The ability to network is vital when you are dealing with periods out of work. It may be possible to move into seismology, as a seismic interpreter, and engineering geology, as well as into hazard prediction.



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