What Is the Difference Between a Seismologist & a Geologist?

May 30, 2020

Comparing Seismologists to Geologists

Geoscientists, such as seismologists and geologists, study our earth to help us live safely and utilize the resources earth provides. Seismologists focus on earthquakes and other seismic (energy) activity that could threaten our security. Similarly, geologists study earth materials and formations to help us understand how earth moves and develops. These two scientific careers have many similarities and differences to explore.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2019)* Job Growth (2018-2028)**
Seismologist Bachelor's Degree $57,391 6% (Geoscientists)
Geologist Bachelor's Degree $58,730 6% (Geoscientists)

Sources: *PayScale, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Seismologists vs. Geologists

Both seismologists and geologists use their expertise to study the earth's history and composition, protect infrastructure from natural disasters, and help find oil, coal, natural gas, and ground water. The difference between these two careers lies in their approach. Seismologists look at waves of energy beneath the earth's surface, whereas geologists look at the structure and makeup of minerals and ancient rock formations.


Seismologists study waves of energy released by the movement of tectonic plates, volcanic eruptions, or even nuclear weapons testing. Working for organizations such as the U.S. Geological Survey, these scientists use seismographs and observations to record and track earthquake data. This allows them to keep a record of the location and size of earthquake events around the world. When working for oil companies, seismologists use controlled waves to find oil and natural gas reservoirs.

Job responsibilities of a seismologist include:

  • Analyzing seismic waves to learn about the composition of earth
  • Guiding architects and engineers to ensure building safety in earthquake areas
  • Providing information to professionals who develop relief efforts following earthquake disasters
  • Publishing their research results in scientific journals to add to the discourse


Geologists do more than study minerals and rocks. They also utilize techniques like sonar and chemical analysis to determine the composition and history of earth. Part of their job is to go into the field and collect rock and soil samples and take these to the lab for further testing. This is one way geologists locate natural resources. They may also study satellite photographs of locations to determine if oil or gas could be present.

Job responsibilities of a geologist include:

  • Interpreting complex data from published project reports and field tests
  • Advising on projects, such as road construction and waste management, to ensure public safety
  • Providing plans for efficiently getting oil out of the ground
  • Ensuring mining and drilling projects comply with any applicable state laws

Related Careers

As someone interested in a career as a seismologist, you may want to research a job as a hydrologist, since this career requires similar analytical skills to study the movement of water above and below the earth's surface. If you're interested in a position as a geologist, you may want to look into a future as a mining engineer, as both of these careers focus on locating and extracting natural resources.

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