Geological Sciences

Marine geological sciences include those activities involving in studying the earth beneath the seabed. Such activities include working on rock or sediment samples, or on physical measurements made by sensors near the sea surface or on or near the seabed. The nature and origin of the seabed differs greatly between the shallow continental shelves and the deep ocean, which is mostly formed by seafloor spreading and modified by the processes and forces associated with volcanoes and earthquakes.

The geological sciences are frequently used to study and solve real practical problems offshore. Examples include the movement of sediment and pollutants along coastlines and the construction of harbours; and further offshore, the routes of cables, pipelines or tunnels, and the siting of oil production platforms, and other fixed structures.

Geological scientists are employed by the hydrocarbons industry to explore for oil and gas. This involves collecting and interpreting geophysical data, selecting drill sites, studying the rocks cut by the drill and the subsequent development of oil and gas fields. Some scientists also study hazards on the seabed, and the risks of earthquakes or the practicality of waste disposal at sea.

Naval scientists are concerned with hydrographic surveying and the effect of the seabed on sound propagation in the sea. Mineral exploitation companies explore for aggregates and placer deposits e.g. tin and diamonds, for manganese nodules in oceanic depths and for the massive sulphide deposits association with seafloor spreading centres.

Strategic and curiosity–driven research are also conducted at sea by university, institute and geological survey scientists. Many countries are now interested in surveying their Exclusive Economic Zone (the area within their 200–mile limit); this is done with geophysical, sampling and coring techniques. Research is also undertaken at mid–ocean ridges and at trenches in the seafloor. The processes of earth crust movement and rock formation are also studied –notably by the international Ocean Drilling Programme’s drillship, JOIDES Resolution. Their sediment cores provide important evidence about past oceanographic and climate conditions. Besides ships, the research scientists’ tools include state–of–the–art equipment which is often specially developed to help them make new or more accurate observations. Many research labs use remotely operated corers, submersibles, deep–towed instruments and even autonomous vehicles.

Travel and prolonged voyages to collect data are often involved in the study of the earth beneath the sea. Marine geologists therefore need to be self–sufficient, practical, pragmatic and used to hard work. Once ashore, the laboratory work may differ little from that associated with working on land data.

Most jobs in the geological sciences require a university degree in geology, geochemistry or geophysics. The majority of posts are found in the hydrocarbon, surveying, seismic processing, minerals prospecting and civil engineering industries and in geological surveys, but opportunities to do research exist in universities, research institutes and oil companies. There are also opportunities for physicists, chemists, biologists and mathematicians to enter the geological sciences by taking a suitable postgraduate MSc course or even by direct entry, as their specialist skills are often in demand. For research posts outside industry, it is usual to obtain a PhD first as a form of research training.

For further information contact:

The British Geological Survey
Kingsley Dunham Centre
Nottinghamshire NG12 5GG
t 0115 936 3100
f 0115 936 3200
Manager, Professional Affairs
The Institute of Marine Engineering
Science and Technology

1 Birdcage Walk, Westminster, London SW1H 9JJ
t 020 7382 2600
National Oceanography Centre
Waterfront Campus
European Way
Hampshire SO14 3ZH
t 02380 506666