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Seismologist: Job Description, Salary and Requirements

Seismologists require significant formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and salary expectations to see if this is the right career for you.

Seismology is one field that is expected to grow rather well over the next decade, specifically because an understanding of the earth's movements is useful for many industries, including the fuel industry. A bachelor's degree related to the field is a necessary start while a graduate degree may open more opportunities for jobs and advancement.

Essential Information

Seismologists are scientists who study earthquakes and planetary activities as well as their effects, such as tsunamis. They use instruments to gather data and monitor the Earth's crust. They usually work in offices or laboratories, but may travel to sites of seismic activity. A bachelor's degree in geophysics may be sufficient for some jobs, but other positions, such as in teaching or research, call for master's or doctoral degrees.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in geophysics or related field; graduate degrees required for many positions
Projected Job Growth (for geoscientists) 10% from 2014-24*
Median Salary (for geoscientists) $89,700 (2015)*

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Job Description

Seismologists are geoscientists who study earthquakes and related phenomena, including the effects of explosions and the formation of tsunamis. These professionals gather data about shifts in the earth's crust through the use of seismographs and other instruments. While many seismologists are uncertain about the possibility of predicting earthquakes, their research has been instrumental in the development of such advances as tsunami warning systems.

Seismologists also study the structure and composition of the earth. Because of the way that earthquakes propagate, studying them is a non-invasive way to determine the composition and structure of the planet. Most of these professionals work in offices, in laboratories, and at research sites.

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, geoscientists earned a median annual income of $89,700 as of May 2015. Jobs in this field are expected to increase 10% from 2014-2024, which is faster than average. Growth is partially the result of upcoming expected retirements and the high cost of fossil fuels, which drives the cost-effectiveness of observational seismologists in the petroleum industry.

Seismologists may also work as university professors. In May 2015, atmospheric, earth, marine, and space science teachers were reported to have earned a median salary of $83,150, per the BLS. Job growth for postsecondary teachers is expected to be 13% between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than average for all industries. This anticipated growth is largely attributed to increasing student enrollment.

Education Requirements

Entry-level positions in seismology require a bachelor's degree or higher in geophysics or a related area, and more advanced roles may require a master's degree or a doctorate. For positions in the petroleum industry, a bachelor's degree is often sufficient, although a master's degree could be beneficial. Research roles, such as those at universities, almost always require a Ph.D., and competition for those jobs is often heavy.

Seismologists use technical equipment and research to understand movements in the earth's crust and predict possible earthquakes. Seismologists have a variety of career opportunities, such as working for the oil and gas industry, the government, in academia or for scientific consultant firms, and they can earn a median salary of nearly $90,000. Seismologists need at least a bachelor's degree, but university teaching positions usually require a graduate degree.


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