Global change is not a new idea to geoscientists; the nature of our work
means we are aware that there have been tremendous modifications to our
planet. Geoscientists are responsible for recording the creation,
accretion, destruction and movements of the continents. We also have to
find out where, when, and how, mineral deposits have formed and to locate
non-renewable energy resources for the future. We have observed and
recorded changes in the diversity of life.
The planet has been kind to some lifeforms that have remained almost
unchanged for 600 million years. Other organisms, such as trilobites,
graptolites and dinosaurs, that once were incredibly successful in terms
of numbers and longevity have been eliminated from the record and are no
longer represented by living forms.
In the most recent stages of earth history we have noted the movement of
continental scale glaciers across high and mid-latitudes. We have
observed sea-level fall and rise by tens of metres and traced our own
development to the dawn of the Twenty-first Century.
We now know from satellite imagery that our planet is finite.
Earth Science is the study of the materials, processes, systems and
resources which make up our planet.
Earth Scientists take a global view and are interested in the natural
resources of the earth and how and when they were formed.
Earth Scientists are concernied with the optimal use of these precious
Earth Science is of vital concern to Australia because our export income
is derived largely from the earth's natural resources such as coal, oil,
or the soil on which our agricultural productivity is based.
In addition, many of the global environmental concerns of today - resource
utilisation, and depletion , atmospheric and climate change, water
pollution and land degradation-- lie with the field of earth sciences.
Geology is the core discipline of earth science and is used in the
exploration for deposits of minerals, metals and fuels essential to our
present lifestyle. Geologists are also at the forefront of environmental
earth science, resource mapping, recycling technology, remote sensing,
geochemistry, geophysics and computer simulations.
Geoscientists have looked at the earth from space. We can now record the
physical processes that shape the planet from the tops of the highest
mountains to the depths of the deepest seas. We explore the movements of
the crust, and probe to the centre of the planet.
Earth scientists have the responsibility of finding new mineral sources
vital to the economic development of rich and poor nations.
We contribute to the protection of the planet and its resources by
our studies of the environment.
We examine the cost and location of structures built by mankind. We help
to decide sources and management of water supplies and of adequate
We are involved in seeing that our waste products are stored so that they
pose the smallest possible threat to ecosystems. We also contribute a
vital component to the understanding and prediction of natural hazards and
disasters, including earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, floods,
droughts and tidal waves.
A modern industrial society
A modern industrial society depends on natural resources and the ability
to process those resources. In turn, the discovery of earth resources
requires the skills of geoscientists.
Exploitation and management of these resources lies in the realm of
business and government.
Ultimately, the demand and disposal of products rests with individual
conscience and different levels of government.
Mineral materials, including metals, non-metals (for example,
cement, building stones, clay, sand and gravels) and fossil fuels, and the
industries that process them, involve over one third of our economy. Their
importance should not be underestimated and the cost of their use should
not be forgotten.
As a nation we face many problems for which geological solutions must be
sought. How large are our non-renewable energy resources (oil, gas, coal,
and uranium), and what will it cost to find and develop them?
Is it possible to extract safely the mineral resources of our remote and
unique regions? What is our stock of metals and other earth materials
such as water, potash, and construction materials?
Certain minerals, especially salts and zeolites, have the capacity to
"store" and "release" heat - can we supply the solar industry of the
future? Some "rare earth" minerals may have great potential in
super-conductivity; where are these minerals located and can we extract
We have a large continental shelf - what is its resource potential?
Environmental hazards must be evaluated in planning cities, highways and
pipelines. They also must be examined in searching for disposal sites for
nuclear and toxic chemical wastes, or in looking at landslide, volcanic
and earthquake hazards.
Geoscientists have the ability to trace the modification of the atmosphere
through historic and prehistoric time. A deep drillhole into the Antarctic
ice has revealed the changing composition of greenhouse gases through the
last 160,000 years. The warming earth scenario, predicted as a by-product
of rising CO2 levels, will create major problems because of melting
permafrost and shrinking glaciers.
What are the implications in terms of flooding, river bank instability,
and downstream silting?
What effect will a rising sea level have on coastal cities, construction,
drainage and salt marsh habitats?
These potential problems require geoscientific expertise, detailed
research and analysis together with chemists, physicists, mathematicians,
biologists and engineers.
This is barely enough to meet the present demands of industry. It will not
be enough to fulfill increased future demand that will arise because of
the changing world priorities. The mining industry has experienced an
upturn in the area of precious metals such as gold and platinum; clean
energy is a vital priority, as is the demand for construction material,
increasing world population and the quest for an improved environment will
see substantial demands for groundwater geologists.
This also will be true for geoscientists trained in the evaluation of
natural hazards, in the safe disposal of hazardous wastes, in remote
sensing and in all the areas of geological engineering. Geoscientists will
interact with other
scientists and with businesses and governments even more than they have in
the past. It is likely that serious environmental problems incurred
through current economic practises in the developing nations, such as
soil mismanagement and siltation, must be resolved by politicians acting
on the advice of geoscientists.
A degree in the earth sciences is essential for your input in any of these
areas. You should be aware of the vital part played by the geosciences in
the health of planet Earth, and of all its species. Your generation has
the ability to choose relevant and personally rewarding careers.
The Geosciences and Societal Problems
With the exploration of Australia, theAmericas, Africa and Asia in
the last century, earth scientists began to remark on the similarities in
coastlines. They also noted the close affinity between fossil
animal and plant species, especially in the southern hemisphere. This soon
led to speculation that the Atlantic and other oceans had opened up by the
separation of once fused continents.
From 1908 to 1915, Alfred Wegener became the pre-eminent spokesman for the
theory that the continents had drifted apart. This idea was premature and
rejected by many geoscientists for lack of an adequate mechanism.
By the early 1960's, mid-ocean ridges had been discovered and interpreted
as linear tracts where the sea floor was opening and spreading and where
new crust was formed. "Plate tectonics" emerged as a new refinement of the
theory of continental drift. The idea states that the earth's surface is
divided into rigid "plates" which move. The plates grow at mid-ocean
ridges, and then converge and sink down into the Earth's crust at trenches
and in mountain belts.
Later ideas concerned "assembly-line" volcanoes, magnetic pole reversals
and changes in understanding the formation of mountains. Complementary
theories revolved around the composition and behaviour of the earth's
core, its mantle and its crust, the origin of faults and earthquakes and
the development of sedimentary basins and their mineral deposits. Other
concepts involved the evolution and distribution of animals and plants in
relation to ancient
climates and to ideas of continental accretion. These have changed our
theoretical ideas of the earth.
Questions still remain unanswered but satellite images have confirmed many
recent theories. Satellites and manned flights also have revealed dramatic
changes in the environment over the past
Still other changes have swept through the geosciences during the last two
Beginning in the sixties, there emerged the realisation that the global
supply of oil and gas was finite. Prices were raised to protect depleting
The book, Limits to Growth, received attention because it stated that our
planet faced a major catastrophe unless alternatives for wasteful
consumption of non-renewable resources were found. Nations checked their
minerals, not only oil and gas, but also coal, uranium, and
This led to a strong demand for geoscientists. The collapse of the Oil
Producing, Exporting Countries (O.P.E.C.) cartel, and the Iran/Iraq war,
coupled with the
necessity of developing nations to service foreign debt repayments, led to
a decline in energy prices and slowed the search for new deposits in the
eighties. In the same decade, documentation of carbon dioxide increases in
atmosphere has increased concerns about the burning of fossil
hydrocarbons. Nevertheless, diminishing reserves, and the needs of
increasing populations, will soon cause nations to increase their
exploration for future reserves.
To support a single individual in our industrialised society, about 25
tons of rocks must be extracted and processed from the earth each year.
Demands on our resources will increase as Australia attempts to retain
energy self-sufficiency and exports fossil energy supplies overseas
Humankind now moves more surface materials on the planet than all the
natural forces employed by rivers, marine and glacial transportation
combined. We see that such tremendous uses of energy are not without an
Hydrogeology, the study of the occurrence, movement, quality and quantity
of water in soils and rocks, is a rapidly expanding career option.
Graduates are in great demand.
Agricultural, industrial and residential uses require large
quantities of pure, uncontaminated water, often beyond that readily
available at the surface. The hydrogeologists' task is to find the hidden
subsurface water resources, assess their quality and decide the reservoir
potential. In addition, the hydrogeologist is often directly involved in
major assessment studies concerning
water pollution, or the disposal of chemical and radioactive wastes.
Hydrogeologists get their training within the four-year geology programme.
They must have courses in mathematics, geophysics, chemistry, and
Training also may be taken through the engineering side. The engineer will
take a geology option or minor with sedimentology, stratigraphy, glacial
geomorphology. Both geologists and engineers may qualify as
hydrogeologists. Familiarity with remote sensing techniques will be an
asset. Many, if not most, hydrogeologists, operate as consultants to
industry or government. Research careers are followed through advanced
degrees at the masters and doctoral level.
Environmental geology involves studying the interaction between the
geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere and the activities of
humankind. A most important component of environmental geology is
stratigraphy; with data largely supplied by test drilling, geophysical
and geological engineering.
Environmental geologists are often involved in studies of land use and as
parts of teams, commissions or enquiries that analyse the impact on the
environment caused by development. These may relate to underground or
mines, the diversion of rivers or the creation of artificial lakes. They
may examine expansion of urban and industrial areas at the expense of
wilderness and agricultural zones, and the location of waste disposal
sites. They work alongside hydrogeologists, glacial geologists, engineers,
chemists. They provide geotechnical engineers with the necessary
geological framework. Such geologists are in the forefront of
decision-making when nuclear and chemical waste disposal problems are
being resolved. In effect, the
environmental geologist is expected to provide information vital to
decisions that will buffer or minimize man's contact with nature.
Environmental geologists must deal not only with the surficial deposits,
but also with the bedrock underneath. Accordingly their university courses
must include stratigraphy, sedimentology, structure, geomorphology and
processes and models. Few universities offer a specialisation in
environmental geology. Check for geology departments with close ties to
engineering programmes on the environmental side. A four-year geology
is the normal path. Students must be prepared to take pertinent courses
from engineering, chemistry and biology, particularly those that relate to
the environment. Some universities offer course options which deal with
impact of environmental changes. Such options are important. Those who
carry on with graduate work usually stop at the M.Sc. or M.Eng. level,
unless they are involved in research, for which the Ph.D. is necessary.
The soil sciences are are closely connected with geology since soils
represent the uppermost covering layer. The quality and thickness of soils
relate to bedrock composition, water content, weathering processes,
landforms and the living cover of plants and animals. The importance to
agriculture and forestry is obvious. Soil samples also provide a tool for
mineral exploration. An analysis for metal content may reveal subsurface
mineral enrichment. Soil research is an aspect important to environmental
geology, glacial geology, and
hydrogeology. Teams of soil scientists and geoscientists are responsible
for extensive surveys and mapping projects. Geoscientists are thus playing
a part in Australia's other resource industries - agriculture and
forestry. Agriculturalists are becoming increasingly concerned about soil
degradation, particularly due to the higher levels of fertilisers that are
being applied to maintain crop production. They are also concerned about
increases in soil salinities from expanded irrigation, and about soil
erosion caused by deep ploughing.
The world is losing topsoil at slightly less than one percent per year.
This poses serious threats to food production and also causes
environmental problems of siltation and flooding in the lower reaches of
rivers. The role of geoscientists and soil scientists will increase in
Crude oil and natural gas occur in sedimentary basins. They are complexes
of hydrogen and carbon, generated through the decomposition of plant and
animal remains under heat and pressure. Like coal, their ultimate origin
goes back through photosynthesis to solar energy. The source of
is usually an organic rich shale from which light liquids or gases are
expelled and migrate upward or laterally.
Eventually they are trapped by an impervious layer and accumulate in a
reservoir, such as a porous sandstone or limestone. Globally, the greatest
production of oil is from the young sedimentary rocks, about 60% from
those less than 60 million years old.
It takes a considerable expertise to locate petroleum, and the petroleum
geologist must be well versed in the various branches of petroleum geology
namely, stratigraphy, sedimentology, structural geology and geophysical
techniques. We are fortunate enough to have substantial petroleum
reserves. Most of these reserves (as large as those of the Middle East).
Australia has oil in the Bass Strait, Victoria, the Northern Territory,
the Timor Sea, off the Queensland Shelf and trapped in oi shale deposits
in Western Queensland as well as huge amounts of methane trapped in
Queensland's coal deposits and will require an enormous capital investment
for extraction. Petroleum reserves become available at high cost for
exploration and development.
New reserves have proved difficult and expensive to extract.
Exploration costs for oil and gas have sky-rocketed. The industry is fast
moving and innovative, and will attract many bright students in geology
and petroleum engineering. Low oil prices do not encourage the enormous
capital investments needed in the near future employment will likely
be with smaller independent companies and consultants rather than with the
large multi-nationals. Predicted market prices for petroleum through the
early 1990's are low, and thus growth will be
slow, resulting in cyclic recruitment peaks and lows dictated by market
International crises, particularly those in the Middle East, often have
dramatic effects on oil prices. Such crises are difficult to predict and
force governments and petroleum companies to consider the strategic needs
for supplies. Severe curtailment of Middle East supplies will assure high
prices and increased exploration and production in Australia.
Economic Geology encompasses the study of mineral deposits, exploration
for new resources, development and mining of all non-hydrocarbon ore
deposits, and environmentally-safe disposal of waste materials from mining
activities. Students with career goals in Australia's mineral resource
industries should expect to study all of the core areas of geology,
including mineralogy, petrology,
geochemistry, structural geology, stratigraphy and paleontology. In
addition, specialist courses in mineral deposits geology, exploration
geochemistry and geophysics are usually taken.
Reasons why you should choose Geology (Earth Sciences)
big starting salaries compared to most other professions(average
no real top end to income - highest levels by ability and track
high employment rates over the long term
world class university courses in the earth sciences - international
university courses are directly job oriented and provides the skills
there are many niche market jobs combining geology with another
skill for example computing, remote sensing, administration, business
management, drafting skills, physics, chemistry, law, logistics...
current downturn in mining has bottomed out, students entering
geology now will graduate on a rising market
Career Opportunities and Profesional Recognition
A Bachelor of Science in earth sciences opens a wide range of
employment opportunities. Your knowledge of the earth's systems and
processes will be valued by industry and government bodies alike. You
could find yourself in areas as diverse as wetlands monitoring and
management to mine site rehabilitation.
Graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree in earth sciences are
elgible to join the following professional associations: Australian
Institute of Geoscientists; Environment Institute of Australia;
Geological Society of Australia; The Australiasian Institute of Mining
Further education and requirements
some enlightened Australian Universities give advance standing or
credit to high school students who have taken Senior Earth Science
Australian students entering an Australian University to study earth
science must have English and a non-vegie Mathematics or equivalent,
Senior Chemistry is recommended though not required.
Most graduates go into the petroleum and mining industries (about 60% and
20%, respectively). Increasing numbers of geoscientists are likely to
become more involved with the environmental sub-professions of waste
management, water, remote sensing interpretation, construction and natural
prediction. Practically all universities provide a working background for
the oil and mining industries, with special emphasis on theories,
processes and models. Oil and mining companies provide the graduate with
early in their career for skills geared to their specific operations. A
normal career path will see the young geoscientist spend a great deal of
time mapping or working away from urban centres. Frequently this is in
remote regions or on location at mining or drilling sites.
In industry, the new graduate will be assigned specific projects. With
time and experience responsibilites and supervisory roles increase and
work will become more diverse, both technically and geographically. Given
expansion by many Australian companies in the developing world, it
might be wise to consider taking a second language.
New challenges facing humanity are altering the traditional role of the
geosciences. Problems which were once the exclusive realm of "pure
geology" are now being examined by teams of geoscientists who not only
substantial training in geology, but also in physics, chemistry and
biology. The impact of the geosciences on business and social structures
ensures that geoscientists further interact in these areas. This, in turn,
broadens the scope and application of the geosciences. In future, we may
be drawing many more
"external" experts into the teams working on geoscientific problems and
Hirings in geosciences have gone through high and low cycles for many
years. The future prospects are exceptionally bright well beyond the year
2000. As world population expands and the global supply of minerals and
fuels shrinks, more geoscientists will be needed. Students enrolling in a
geoscience programme should seek training in basic geological courses.
should include economic geology, environmental geology, mapping,
mineralogy, paleontology, petrology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, and
structural geology. The fundamentals of chemistry, physics, biology,
mathematics and computer science must also be taken. Students should not
neglect mind-broadening courses in history, literature, philosophy,
economics, and languages. If you think that you might wish to work in a
certain region of the world, think about language training in advance;
perhaps in fields such as
Spanish, and Portuguese for South America, and Malay,
Thai, Vietnamese, or Chinese for Southeast Asia.
During your junior and senior years consider the future.
Do you prefer the "hard" or "soft" rock side?
Do you want to go on in graduate studies?
Would you like to join industry (oil, coal, gas, mining and
consulting companies), government or university?
Do you have your mind set on a teaching career or a teaching and
research position at university?
Part-time field work may be available after the first year of university:
the experience in the field is invaluable to your studies and to your
later career. Be flexible; do not become "tunnel-visioned", preferring one
area to the exclusion of others. Though you have gained expertise in one
field of geoscience, you may be drawn into another later.
Many geoscientists find that their interests shift. Someone with a
hard-rock background may very well move into environmental or glacial
geology. A geochemist may become largely concerned with paleontological
problems. A geophysicist may become heavily involved in structural
geology. An economic geologist may become increasingly
involved with environmental matters.
One thing is certain, the geosciences are not dull! As a field geologist
you may be placed in situations that will test you in every way possible.
Earth scientists are often first hand witnesses to volcanic eruptions, to
earthquakes, tidal waves and other natural catastrophes. You will likely
travel to remote parts of this continent and overseas. Geoscientists have
been to the moon, and will be involved with the missions to Mars and
In a research capacity you will be expected to be at the forefront of
geoscience. As a profession, earth scientists are probably the most
environmentally aware members of the scientific fraternity. Whether you
look at the forces that have shaped Earth through the view from earth
satellite images, or from an isolated tent perched on a ridge of tilted
strata in Antarctica, you will appreciate humanity's place on the planet.
The Earth Sciences are fundamental to our society; we have a long way to
go and the future has never looked so challenging nor so bright.