1.3 What Do Geologists Do?

A line of people in hard hats walk along a steep slope at the base of a cliff. The landscape below opens to water.
Figure 1.4 Geologists at work on the island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard archipelago. The islands are located in the Arctic Ocean north of Norway. Source: Gus MacLeod (2007) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Image source.

Geologists do a lot of different things.  Many of the jobs are the things you would expect:

  • Geologists work in the resource industry, including mineral exploration and mining, and exploring for and extracting sources of energy.
  • They do hazard assessment and mitigation (e.g., assessment of risks from slope failures, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions).
  • They study the nature of the subsurface for construction projects such as highways, tunnels, and bridges.
  • They use information about the subsurface for water supply planning, development, and management, and to decide how best to contain contaminants from waste.

Geologists also do the research that makes practical applications of geology possible.  Some geologists spend their summers trekking through the wilderness to make maps of the rocks in a particular location, and collect clues about the geological processes that occurred there.

Some geologists work in laboratories analyzing the chemical and physical properties of rocks to understand how the rocks will behave when forces act on them, or when water flows through them.  Some geologists specialize in inventing ways to use complex instruments to make these measurements.

Geologists study fossils to understand ancient animals and environments, and go to extreme environments to understand how life might have originated on Earth.  Some geologists help NASA understand the data they receive from objects in space.

Geological work can be done indoors in offices and labs, but some people are attracted to geology because they like to be outdoors.  Many geological opportunities involve fieldwork in places that are as amazing to see as they are interesting to study. Sometimes these are locations where few people have ever set foot, and where few ever will again.

Living with a Volcano

Figure 1.5 Ash plume from the eruption of La Soufrière on the island of St. Vincent on 9 April, 2021. In the Red Zone near the volcano, risk of life-threatening volcanic hazards is highest. An evacuation was ordered on 8 April, 2021. Source: Karla Panchuk (2021) CC BY-SA. Photograph by Lauren Dauphin, NASA Earth Observatory.

On 9 April 2021, the volcano La Soufrière on the island of St. Vincent erupted explosively. A day earlier, seismic activity at the volcano caused the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to call for an evacuation of the Red Zone in the northern part of the island, closest to the volcano. By 12 April, 16,000 people had been evacuated to safety.

Many people with a wide range of knowledge, skills, and experience are needed to manage this kind of evacuation. Which of the roles below include geoscientists? Select as many as apply.

  1. Planning an evacuation strategy
  2. Assessing the risk of an eruption
  3. Planning and organizing humanitarian relief
  4. Communicating with the public

To check your answers, navigate to the below link to view the interactive version of this activity.


Hansen, K. (2021, April 9). Eruption at La Soufrière. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/148176/eruption-at-la-soufriere

Jones, D. (2021, April 12). From bad to worse: La Soufrière volcano continues to erupt. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/04/12/986302206/from-bad-to-worse-la-soufriere-continues-to-erupt

Lovell, E., & Wilkinson, E. (Accessed 2021, April 30). Managing multi-hazard disaster risk in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Overseas Development Institute. https://odi.org/en/publications/multimedia/managing-multi-hazard-disaster-risk-in-st-vincent-and-the-grenadines/

Romo, V., & Newman, S. (2021, April 9). Volcano erupts on Caribbean Island Of St. Vincent as evacuation continues. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/04/09/985626157/threat-of-volcanic-eruption-forces-residents-to-flee-st-vincent


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