Career guide: Geophysicist

Geophysicists study the physical aspects of the earth using a range of methods, including gravity, magnetic, electrical and seismic. The data they collect and analyse is used for specific goals depending on the industry they work in.

Geophysicists study the physical aspects of the earth using a range of methods, including gravity, magnetic, electrical and seismic. The data they collect and analyse is used for specific goals depending on the industry they work in.

General tasks for geophysicists include:

  • Identifying locations for surveying
  • Controlling the quality of geophysical survey data
  • Assess the viability of a site for construction
  • Locate mineral deposits and energy sources like oil and gas
  • Evaluate the potential yield of mineral deposits and energy sources

You'll be responsible for controlling the quality of the seismic data collected and interpreting it in order to create maps of the build-up of hydrocarbons. Other tasks include undertake geophysical survey work, such as data acquisition, quality control, interpretation of side scan sonar, sub-bottom profiler or magnetometer data.

Working Hours and Environment

Geophysicists tend to split work between office and outdoor environments. On the one hand, research-focused geophysicists usually work in an office or laboratory with regular hours from Monday to Friday. Shift work might be involved in some laboratories that demand round-the-clock operations.Offshore work is a common avenue for geophysicists, and this can entail up to six months on and off ships or rigs. The typical length of a workday is 12 hours. Contracting is also becoming more popular, with short-term jobs paid on a daily rate.

Job Entry and Qualifications

Relevant degree subjects include physical, mathematical and applied sciences and engineering. The following degree subjects may increase your chances of entry:

A postgraduate qualification in a relevant course, such as a Masters degree in geophysics or geoscience or a PhD, may improve your employment prospects and enhance your salary. Study at this level can provide opportunities to make contacts through projects within industry, or attendance at conferences. It's sometimes possible to get freelance work in this way.

Skills you'll need

  • Good IT skills to process data and produce three-dimensional models of geophysical features
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Commitment to continual learning
  • Team working skills
  • The ability to express ideas and findings clearly, both orally and in writing     to produce reports and make presentations
  • Project management skills
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Numerical skills

As well as knowledge in:

  • Chemistry
  • Engineering science and technology
  • Specialist computer software including data collection and modelling and mapping programmes


An entry-level geophysicist can have an annual salary starting from £20,000 to £35,000. The starting rate depends on the particular kind of work a geophysicist has to do:

  • Field seismologists can start at £28,000
  • Seismic interpreters can start at £25,000
  • Geophysical technicians and data processors can start at £20,000

Geophysicists with experience can have an annual salary starting from £35,000 to £100,000. Again, this depends on what their exact role is:

  • Field seismologists at the senior level can make £75,000 to £100,000
  • Seismic interpreters with experience can make £50,000 to £75,000 or more

Rates for offshore jobs can also vary depending on where the work is being done. For instance, private energy companies adjust their pay as the prices of oil and gas go up and down.

Training and Development

Employers will provide basic training for safety and fieldwork to new geophysicists, and there are major energy companies that offer comprehensive training programmes that can last up to two years which focus on placing trainees in different teams to get practical experience across multiple specialties.

Employment opportunities

Working in the offshore industry means overseas opportunities. The North Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea continue to be the central locations for oil and gas companies in Europe.

The western and central regions of the Gulf of Mexico are the main spots of US and Mexico offshore operations. Down south, surveys are conducted in the Gulf of Venezuela and the Orinoco Petroleum Belt.

In Asia, China runs exploration and development projects in the East and South China Sea, as well as the Bohai Sea. The Arabian Gulf presents a constant stream of job prospects.

West Africa and Angola are promising areas for their deep-water fields.

If you're a geophysicist looking for your next opportunity, head over to our jobs page where you can find a range of our newer roles. Cant find what you're looking for? Call a dedicated member of the team today on 01489668350.

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