Career in Geophysics

Geophysics, a branch of Earth sciences, is the study of the Earth by quantitative physical methods, especially by seismic, electromagnetic, and radioactivity methods.

The theories and techniques of geophysics are employed extensively in the planetary sciences in general.

As the name implies, geophysics involves the application of physical theories and measurements to discover the properties of the earth.

The discipline dates to antiquity, mainly as a scientific approach to earthquake prediction (a problem still unsolved), but major progress began in the late 1500s with initial work in such areas as magnetism and gravity.

Tremendous improvements in instrumentation in the early years of the 20th century generated rapid progress in geophysics and ultimately led, in the 1960s, to the theory of plate tectonics.

Plate tectonics, the study of the interior structure of the earth, and such related areas as global and regional processes are known collectively as solid earth geophysics.

The sub discipline known as exploration geophysics involves the use of geophysical theory and instrumentation to locate petroleum and other mineral sources. Unlike solid earth geophysics, exploration geophysics generally concentrates on finding lateral heterogeneities in a relatively small part of the earth’s crust.

Geophysics has increased dramatically man’s ability to exploit natural resources. Human senses cannot quantify, or even detect many physical phenomena (e.g., magnetism).

Humans cannot detect variations in the earth’s gravitation field of one part per million, but modern gravity meters can (in fact, to 0.02 parts per million or better).

Seismology, the primary method of petroleum exploration, requires exact timing and recording of very low – amplitude vibrators, vibrations (or shaking) that is far below that which a human would sense.

The earliest use of geophysics in India can be traced to Colonel William Lambton, who suggested a survey in 1799 which ultimately resulted in a geodetic network to study the earth’s ellipticity.

Gravity fields has been studied in India since 1830s when Col. George Everest, the then Surveyor General of India carried out precise measurements of the great arc established around 77°30″ E longitude and discovered difference between geodetic and astronomical measurements of latitude between Kalina and Kalianpur.

In 1955, Oil and Natural Gas Division was created in GSI. The division became a directorate and subsequently a commission, in 1959. Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) in 1957, started gravity and magnetic data acquisition in most of the basins of India on regular grid. ONGC used Russian and American made instruments.

Geophysics for oil exploration was used first in 1923 by Burman Oil Corporation (BOC) in the Indus Valley using a Torsion balance. Electrical surveys were first carried out in Nellore District and later in Singhbhum for copper in 1933 by Ms/. Piepmeyer and Kelbof.

The credit of first geophysical survey by an Indian goes to late Shri M.B.R. Rao when in 1937 he carried out electrical surveys for sulphide ore deposits in Mysore.

During the war between 1939 – 45, Mysore Geological Department with Shri. M.B.R. Rao was the only organization carrying out geophysical work using self – potential and resistivity surveys.

Geophysical Education in India

Major Institutions which have been teaching Geophysics in India since 1949 are : Andhra University, Wallair, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, IIT Kharagpur, Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, University of Roorkee and Osmania University, Hyderabad.

Geophysics education was started in India almost simultaneously at Andhra University, (AU) and Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in 1949. The Andhra University started courses leading to B.Sc. and later to M.Sc. degrees in the disciplines :

  • Meteorology and Oceanography
  • Physics of the Earth’s interior

Initially the courses were of 2 Years duration, which were upgraded to 3 years in 1955. Prof. N.K. Sen was the first Head of the department during the period 1949 – 52. In 1978.

The Andhra University started a two years M.Sc. course in Marine Geophysics. At BHU, Geophysics teaching was started as a part of the Geology Department in 1949, when Prof. Rajnath was the Head of the Department.

Later (1964) Geophysics got separated and Prof. H.S. Rathor was the first Head of the Department. At present specialization in Exploration Geophysics (3 years M.Sc. course) as well as Meteorology is being offered.

In 1951 the Department of Geology and Geophysics was established at the Indian Institute of Technology IIT Kharagpur. Initially the department offered a 3 years integrated course in Geology and Geophysics. In 1957, postgraduate courses of one – year duration (DIIT) as well as a two – year course in M.Sc. in Geophysics were introduced. The later is still continuing.

At the University of Roorkee (UOR), 3 Years M. Tech. Course in Geophysics was started in 1969, as a part of the Geology department, under the leadership of Prof. R.S. Mittal.

At Osmania University Hyderabad, teaching of Geophysics was started in 1965, when a 3 Years. M. Tech course was introduced.

Under Indo – Soviet bilateral agreement (1966) the Department of Geophysics at Osmania received a considerable technical and manpower assistance from the Soviet Union; In 1969 the Center of Exploration Geophysics (CEG) was established at the University.

Core Courses and Specialization At present all the Departments of Geophysics are teaching courses such as Numerical Analysis, Communication Theory, Electrical and Electromagnetic Methods of Prospecting, Signal Processing.

Computer Programming, Well – Logging, Seismic, Gravity and Magnetic Methods of Prospecting, Mining Geophysics, and Petroleum Exploration.

The Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad is offering a specialized course in Petroleum Exploration leading to M. Tech. Degree.

Some of the departments are offering specialized courses (as options) in different subjects such as Meteorology, Marine Geophysics, Seismology and Earth’s Interior, Geoelectricity, Geomagnetism, Remote Sensing, Environmental Geophysics, Advanced Hydrology etc.

Almost all the departments of Geophysics have well qualified staff, laboratories as well as computer facilities.

Careers in Geophysics

Geophysicists are involved in field investigation; laboratory studies and experiments; data collection from instruments placed below the earth’s surface and from satellites hundreds of kilometers above the surface; data processing and analysis using some of the world’s most potent supercomputers; and drilling wells thousands of meters deep.

The long – range forecast for employment opportunities for geophysicists are very good, particularly since exploration geophysics degrees incorporate diverse fields of study and practical field experience.

Exploration for coal, petroleum, minerals and water, concern about the environment, and the disposal of hazardous waste are just a few of the challenging areas which will require the skills of trained geophysicists for many years to come.

Geophysics Industry

The oil and gas industry has traditionally been a big employer of geophysicists in general, and seismologists in particular. The job market tends to fluctuate rapidly in this field, but there is a potential for high salary. Employers tend to prefer students with a Master’s degree, but may hire those with only a BS and then support the student’s future education.

Environmental consulting companies are often keen to hire geophysicists because of their quantitative background. This can be useful in modeling the subsurface flow of contaminated water, for instance.

This job market is subject to economic fluctuations as well, but has long term stability because companies must continuously adhere to laws and governmental regulations concerning the environment.

Various private consulting companies also exist for performing verification seismology and estimating seismic hazard. These firms are common outlets for students with advanced degrees in seismology.

Government Organisation

In India ONGC and NGRI mainly employs Geophysicist. The Oil and Natural Gas Agency Ltd., ranks as the Numero Uno Oil & Gas Exploration & Production (E & P) Company in Asia, as per Platts 250 Global Energy Companies List for the year 2007 is the main employer of Geophysicist in India.

The National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) was established under CSIR in 1961 at Hyderabad with the mission to be the premier geoscientific organisation in India.

Over the last three and half years, it has established an enviable reputation with its excellent research programs and developments in earth sciences that have provided the benefit of its scientific and technological prowess for the well being of the people of the country.

The United States Geological Survey commonly hires geophysicists to study and help mitigate hazards from earthquakes and volcanoes. Although many people hired by the USGS have advanced degrees, there are opportunities for those with only undergraduate degrees.

Two of the national nuclear weapons labs, Los Alamos National Labs, and Lawrence Livermore National Labs, commonly hire geophysicists to work in verification seismology. In this field, seismic data from around the world are continuously monitored for evidence of nuclear weapons tests.

The labs pay very high salaries and provide many opportunities for student internships. We have recently had three SLU undergraduates participate as interns at national labs.


The U.S. Military does hire geophysicists in various capacities, and the individuals need not be actual members of the armed services.

One example is the Air Force Technical Application Center (AFTAC) in Melbourne, Florida. Here geophysicists contribute to monitoring the world for clandestine nuclear weapons tests using techniques developed to study earthquakes.

A second example is the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), located in Hanover, New Hampshire. Here geophysicists use seismic methods to increase battlefield awareness.

Geophysics Teaching

A geophysics degree is a great choice for someone wanting to be a high – school math or science teacher. It provides a sound general background in applied math, electricity and magnetism, heat flow, and elasticity, and it also provides expert knowledge about volcanism, earthquakes, plate tectonics, and the solar system.

For those interested in teaching at the college level, a PhD in geophysics is required; however, the SLU undergraduate program is specifically designed for students who wish to pursue an advanced degree in geophysics. Guidance on applying to and selecting graduate schools is commonly provided by the faculty.

Graduate school in geophysics is generally free; institutions commonly waive tuition and provide students with stipends of 15 – 20K per year while pursuing their studies.

It is important to note that an advanced geophysics degree is also beneficial in many non – academic career paths (as noted above).

4 thoughts on “Career in Geophysics

  1. i m interested in this field but dont know how to start and form where will u pls help me to find the ri8 path .

  2. i am persuing mech. engg. in hyderabad. i am intrested in geophysics, do any university in south central india offer open b. sc in geophysics or part time?

  3. geophysics simply rocks ! i dint expected much about this subject.if you love nature there is a great future for you.get paid high for that too.

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