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Geophysicist

Kaimātai Pūtaiao Whenua

Alternative titles for this job

Geophysicists use data-collecting technology to study natural processes of the Earth, such as earthquake and volcanic activity, and to locate minerals, oil and gas, or groundwater.

Pay

New geophysicists usually earn

$65K-$75K per year

Senior geophysicists usually earn

$120K-$180K per year

Source: GNS Science, 2021.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a geophysicist are average for researchers, but good for those in the private sector.

Pay

Pay for geophysicists varies depending on qualifications and experience.

  • Graduate geophysicists usually start on $65,000 to $75,000 a year.
  • Mid-level geophysicists usually earn $85,000 to $120,000.
  • Senior geophysicists who lead groups of scientists on projects can earn $120,000 to $180,000.

Geophysicists working in the private sector may earn more than this.

Source: GNS Science, 2021. 

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Geophysicists may do some or all of the following:

  • study the physical properties of the Earth, including rocks, geological layers, oceans and atmosphere
  • look for and study oil, gas, groundwater and mineral deposits
  • study the eruption patterns of active and dormant volcanoes
  • study risks to coastlines from storms and tsunamis
  • measure gravity, earthquakes, electrical fields and magnetic fields
  • process data and measurements taken from Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment
  • provide information for search and rescue missions
  • advise central and local government, civil defence and other organisations about risks from volcanoes, for example
  • carry out research and experiments, and develop numerical models to support their scientific theories
  • write research papers and reports based on the results of their studies
  • teach at universities and supervise students' research projects.

Skills and knowledge

Geophysicists need to have knowledge of:

  • the principles of physics
  • the geological nature of the Earth, including minerals, rocks and soils, and the processes that operate on them over time
  • the marine environment
  • how volcanoes behave
  • the causes of earthquakes
  • how to perform experiments and operate scientific equipment
  • how to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – tools for capturing, storing and analysing geographic data
  • how to use computer-based models to understand real-world events
  • how to analyse and interpret research results and other information.

Working conditions

Geophysicists:

  • in research institutes usually work regular business hours, but may work long, irregular hours when carrying out experiments
  • may work in offices, universities, laboratories, mines, on drilling platforms or at building sites
  • may work in extreme weather on mountains or at sea, or underground in dark, dirty and cramped conditions
  • may travel nationally or overseas to do fieldwork, or attend conferences.

What's the job really like?

Jess Hillman

Jess Hillman

Geophysicist

Learning more about the seafloor

Marine geophysicist Jess Hillman likes making discoveries at sea.

"I’m leading new research looking at gas hydrates, a geological phenomenon under the seafloor of the North Island’s East Coast."

To study this ice-like substance, which could help us better understand climate change, Jess's team takes core samples of the seafloor and uses remote-sensing technology. "I spend from a couple of weeks to two months every year at sea collecting data.

"We also look at how animals using the hydrates as a food source may be affected if the environmental conditions change. You can't just do an experiment and see a change tomorrow – it’s about visualising on a broad timescale, which can be challenging."

A global career

"Growing up I liked being outdoors and was curious about what shaped the world around me," says Jess. "We moved around a lot so a career that takes you places, like geophysics, was appealing.

"I’ve worked in Greenland, USA, the Middle East and Germany, and I collaborate with scientists around the world. Many of the entry-level roles in New Zealand are short term, so it’s good to be open to working around New Zealand and overseas."

Entry requirements

To become a geophysicist you need a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in physics, geophysics or geology. However, most employers prefer you to have a Masters or PhD in one of these subjects.

Some people working as geophysicists may have degrees in any of:

  • maths or statistics
  • oceanography
  • engineering
  • marine science
  • biology.

Secondary education

A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include physics, chemistry, maths, geography and English.

Personal requirements

Geophysicists need to be:

  • patient and accurate
  • enquiring and observant
  • good at maths and able to solve problems
  • good at planning
  • able to think creatively to find new solutions to scientific problems
  • skilled communicators for writing reports.

You need to be creative when thinking about your research because innovative research proposals make it easier to get funding and find new solutions.


Photo: Jess Hillman

Jess Hillman

Geophysicist

Useful experience

Useful experience for geophysicists includes:

  • computer-coding skills
  • work in electronics
  • work as a geological field assistant or science technician
  • any practical fieldwork. 

Physical requirements

 Geophysicists who do fieldwork need to be reasonably fit and healthy.

Find out more about training

Institute of Earth Science and Engineering
(09) 373 7599 ext 83932 - shortcourses@iese.co.nz - www.iese.co.nz
Petroleum Skills Association
(06) 757 3708 - www.petroleumskills.co.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Good demand for geophysicists in private sector  

Opportunities are good for geophysicists working for geotechnical, environmental and engineering companies, especially in areas such as:  

  • groundwater exploration, because as droughts increase demand is growing for geophysicists to locate new water sources
  • infrastructure development, because the Government is focusing on this and needs advice on whether sites are suitable for large constructions such as bridges.

According to the Census, 288 geophysicists worked in New Zealand in 2018.

Limited opportunities for researchers in oceanography and basin analysis

Opportunities for geophysicists specialising in research, such as oceanography or basin analysis (finding the best locations for oil and gas exploration), are limited because:

  • these are small fields of research in New Zealand
  • turnover is low, so competition is high for the few vacancies that arise
  • government funding is low for oceanography and declining for basin analysis.  

Technical skills increase your chances of getting geophysics work

Geophysics is becoming increasingly computer-based. You can improve your chances of finding work if you have skills and experience in:

  • computer coding
  • computational analysis (analysing mathematical models using computer code)
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS). 

Crown research institutes main employers of geophysicists

Most geologists work for Crown research institutes such as:

  • GNS Science, the largest employer of geophysicists
  • National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)
  • Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.

Geophysicists may also work for:

  • universities, as teachers and lecturers
  • consultancies and private companies, including engineering firms and mining and drilling companies
  • ministries and government departments, such as New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals, as policy developers and advisers
  • local authorities such as regional and city councils
  • state-owned enterprises such as MetService or Meridian.

Sources

  • Hillman, J, marine geologist/geophysicist, GNS Science, careers.govt.nz interview, February 2021.
  • Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Geophysicists may specialise in roles such as:

Oceanographer
Oceanographers study the oceans and the marine environment.
Seismologist
Seismologists study earthquakes and artificially produced vibrations of the Earth.
Volcanologist
Volcanologists study volcanoes and monitor volcanic activity.
Geophysicist standing on Mt Ruapehu, holding laser-scanning equipment

A geophysicist sets up laser-scanning equipment to capture volcanic fractures on Mt Ruapehu (Photo: GNS Science)

Last updated 8 March 2021