Kaimātai Pūtaiao Whenua
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 ground water.
Geophysicists usually earn
$65K-$110K per year
Senior geophysicists may earn
$95K-$170K per year
Source: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), 2017.
Pay for geophysicists varies depending on level of qualification, experience, employer and field of work.
Geophysicists working in government research organisations and universities usually start out at $65,000 to $90,000 a year. Those working in senior roles can earn $95,000 to $130,000.
Geophysicists working in the private sector usually start out at $80,000 to $110,000 a year. Those working in senior roles can earn from $110,000 to $170,000.
Source: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), 2017.
(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 geological layers, oceans and atmosphere
- study the properties of rocks and other planets
- look for and study oil, gas, groundwater and mineral deposits
- study the patterns of eruption 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 hypotheses
- 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 and 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 that collects and records data
- how to analyse and interpret research results and other information.
- 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?
Hai Zhu - Geophysicist
Geophysics is a good job to be in if you have a questioning mind – there are always endless questions in geophysics, says Hai Zhu.
Looking for oil and gas
For the last 15 years Hai Zhu has specialised in seismic exploration, working mainly in regions like Canterbury, the East Coast and the Taranaki Basin.
"We research and compile data to find where the best areas are for oil and gas potential, so we can then guide the oil companies to them."
Infinite possibilities lie under the earth
Hai says people often get confused when they hear about seismic exploration, thinking that it's to do with earthquakes. "But you are trying to detect what happens underneath the earth by sending in artificial sound waves with scientific devices.
"Earthquake seismology is different because the sound waves are created naturally by the earthquakes.
"I think the good part of geophysics is that you are always thinking of a solution. Sometimes this can be the bad part too because you never stop. The doctor who operates on a patient can see what is inside the body, but we can't because we can't open up the Earth!"
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. Some people working as geophysicists may have degrees in maths or statistics, oceanography, engineering, marine science or biology.
In some areas of geophysics, such as oceanography, where competition for positions is high, you may have better chances of getting work if you study two sciences.
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include physics, chemistry, maths, geography and English.
Geophysicists need to be:
- comfortable working outdoors
- accurate and observant
- good at planning and problem solving
- good at communicating
- able to write reports
- good at maths.
Useful experience for geophysicists includes:
- work as a computer programmer
- work in electronics
- work as a geological field assistant or science technician
- any practical marine work such as scuba diving.
Geophysicists need to be reasonably fit and healthy to do fieldwork, which is normally a small part of their role. Fieldwork can involve conducting experiments in extreme environments, walking in remote locations, carrying heavy equipment or working in rough seas.
Find out more about training
- Institute of Earth Science and Engineering
- (09) 373 7599 ext 83932 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.iese.co.nz
- Petroleum Skills Association
- (06) 757 3708 - email@example.com - www.petroleumskills.co.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Demand for geophysicists in private sector variable
Chances of getting a job in the private sector varies. Opportunities are good for geophysicists working for environmental and engineering companies, including in areas such as:
- groundwater exploration, because as droughts increase demand grows for geophysicists to locate new water sources
- infrastructure, because the Government is focusing on developing this and needs advice on whether sites are suitable for large constructions such as bridges.
Limited opportunities for oceanographic and volcanologist researchers
Opportunities for geophysicists specialising in research such as volcanology or oceanography are limited because:
- these are very small fields of research in New Zealand
- turnover is low, so competition is high for the few vacancies that do arise
- government funding is low in these fields of geophysics.
Types of employers varied
Most geophysicists in New Zealand work for Crown research institutes such as:
- the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS Science)
- the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)
- Landcare Research.
Geophysicists may also work for:
- universities, as teachers and lecturers
- ministries and government departments such as New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals, as policy developers and advisers
- consultancies and private companies, including engineering firms and mining and drilling companies
- local authorities such as regional and city councils
- state-owned enterprises such as MetService or Meridian Energy.
- Hollins, K, human resources manager, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Careers New Zealand interview, March 2017.
(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:
- Oceanographers study the oceans and the marine environment.
- Seismologists study earthquakes and artificially produced vibrations of the Earth.
- Volcanologists study volcanoes and monitor volcanic activity.
Last updated 5 December 2019