Those engaged in Environmental Policy, Planning, and Management usually work for a local government and are likely to be engaged in a lot of research intensive work. Environmental Lawyers may be able to get out of the office to the courtroom, or, again, have intensive desk jobs. Wildlife Managers, Zoologists, and Horticulturists are often thought to have positions which keep them working in a mix of indoors and out, but generally in one location. Oceanographers and Meteorologists could spend their entire careers in the safety of a laboratory working upper level computer models, or much of their time at sea, studying the weather. Microbiologists, Soil and Plant Scientists, and Ecologists could work in remediation efforts, for sanitation companies, in manufacturing, at a university, for many private companies, law firms, not-for-profit groups, or government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, or the United States Geological Survey.
Knowing what is available to you professionally is half the battle when choosing a career. Finding something you enjoy doing within the broad scope of Environmental Science shouldn't be terribly difficult when there are so many options. Environmental Consultants may have the best of many worlds, setting their own schedules, seeking clients that need their particular form of expertise, and setting their own blend of ideal field work and intellectual work schedule. Find what you enjoy doing, and it shouldn't be “work”, but a career.
Environmental scientists are problem solvers. They research environmental and health problems to determine their causes and come up with solutions. They investigate issues like mysterious deformations in frogs, unexplained cancer occurrences in a neighborhood, or disease in the former asbestos mining town of Libby, Montana.
Environmental scientists conduct research to identify the causes of these types of problems, and how to minimize or eliminate them. They also conduct theoretical research that increases our understanding of how the natural world works. They use what they learn to make recommendations and develop strategies for managing environmental problems.
Environmental science is a holistic and multidisciplinary field that integrates the biological, physical, and earth sciences. Its goal is to understand how earth works and how it supports life. It also aims to identify, control, and prevent disruption to its systems and species caused by human activity.
Environmental scientists use their knowledge of earth's systems to protect the environment and human health. They do this by cleaning up contaminated areas, making policy recommendations, or working with industry to reduce pollution and waste. They may also investigate the source of an environmental or health problem, and devise strategies to combat it.
What Does an Environmental Scientist Do?
Environmental scientists conduct research to identify, control, or eliminate sources of pollutants or hazards affecting the environment or public health. Their research generally involves determining data collection methods; collecting and analyzing air, water, and soil samples; analyzing environmental data gathered by others; and analyzing for correlations to human activity. They also need to prepare reports and presentations that explain their findings.
Environmental scientists also develop plans to prevent, control, or fix environmental problems like air pollution. They may also advise government officials that make policy, and businesses that need to follow regulations or improve their practices. Some conduct environmental inspections of businesses. Many assess the potential effects of development projects to prevent creating new problems.
Some environmental scientists and specialists focus on environmental issues, while others focus on issues relating to human health. Either way, they work on critical issues, solving some of the most important problems of our day.
Where Does an Environmental Scientist Work?
Most environmental scientists work for federal, state, or local governments, where they conduct research, advise on policy, and verify that businesses are following regulations. As of 2012, most environmental scientists (22%) worked in state government. Another 21% worked for companies providing management, scientific, and technical consulting services. These professionals usually help companies comply with regulations. 14% worked for local government agencies. 10% provided engineering services, and 7% worked for the federal government.
Environmental scientists work in offices and laboratories. While some may gather data and monitor conditions in the field, this is more likely to be done by technicians. Those who do work in the field may find it demanding, and work in all kinds of weather. Travel to client sites or conferences may be required. Most environmental scientists work full time. They may work long or irregular hours in the field.
What Is the Average Environmental Scientist Salary?
The average annual salary for environmental scientists was $63,570 in May 2012. Those working for the federal government earned the highest salaries ($95,460). Those working in engineering services earned $67,770. Environmental scientists providing management, scientific, and technical consulting services made $64,940. Those working for local government made $60,280, while those employed in state government made $56,640.
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- Develop research methods and systems that are best fit for the chemicals and environment that are being researched
- Use observations, samples, and specimens to collect data
- Review current scientific literature on an ongoing basis to stay abreast of developments in the field
- Record and store observations, samples and specimens in the lab and in fieldwork
- Develop systems to better analyze data
- Present research findings to internal and external stakeholders through a variety of media channels
- Communicate with senior scientists and administrators through formal and informal reports
A senior environmental scientist or chief researcher may have the following or similar additional responsibilities, depending on the goals of the project. These additional tasks tend to be focused on project management and budgetary management:
- Create project timelines and budgetary metrics
- Ensure quality, integrity, project organization
- Track field and lab data
- Manage communications from the work group to stakeholders, senior administrators and the public
- Supervise field and lab work and overlapping project segments and workgroups
- Train and supervise administrative support staff
- Construct grant applications to be awarded funding
What Is the Job Demand for Environmental Scientists?
The job outlook for environmental scientists is excellent. Employment is projected to grow 15% from 2012 to 2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Issues like climate change and fracking have spurred more public interest in the environment. The country's aging infrastructure will also have to be replaced. These issues will likely fuel job growth.
Many of the new jobs will be in private consulting firms that help clients manage environmental concerns and comply with regulations. However, most of the jobs will still be in government and academia.
What Environmental Science Careers Are Available?
Environmental scientists often begin their careers as environmental technicians or research assistants. These professionals can work their way up to supervisory positions over time. Eventually, they may be promoted to program management or research positions. Other environmental scientists and specialists leave the private sector to teach or conduct research as faculty members in academia. Graduate study is often required for advancement, as well as academic positions.
How Do I Get an Environmental Science Degree?
Most entry-level jobs require a bachelor's degree in environmental science or related field such as microbiology, chemistry, physics, geosciences, or engineering. Students enrolled in environmental science programs study the sciences broadly, taking courses in biology, chemistry, geology, and physics. They may take more specialized courses in hydrology and waste management as well. Social sciences courses in environmental policy, geography, and public administration are also beneficial for learning about the political and human aspects of the field. Hands-on experience or coursework in computer modeling, data analysis, and geographic information systems is highly desirable.
Master's degrees may sometimes be required for advancement. Environmental scientists aspiring to academic careers will need a doctoral degrees. Those pursuing advanced degrees may do well to major in a specific natural science such as chemistry, biology, physics, or geology, rather than a broader environmental science degree.
Read more about getting an online environmental science degree.
What Kind of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Environmental Scientists Have?
- The American Geosciences Institute (AGI) is the premier professional association for geoscientists of all stripes. It hosts a data hub for information about educational programs and careers. It also provides professional development, publishes Earth magazine, and makes the professional literature available through the GeoRef database.
- The National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) is a multidisciplinary association for all types of environmental professionals. NAEP organizes networking opportunities, including an annual conference and regional meetings and events. It also offers webinars and hosts a career center.
Other Recommend Resources
- Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences
- National Council for Science and the Environment
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Click on the highlighted areas below to learn more about each of these specialties.
Salary Comparison Tool
Search and compare the salaries of various environmental science careers around the United States by city and state. All salary data is sourced from BLS.gov.
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Acoustical Engineers operating in an area of engineering primarily concerned with sound. They will be involved in the design and construction of civic works, residential and commercial/industrial real estate in conjunction with urban planners. However, this covers a diverse range of roles. Graduates with qualifications and expertise in Acoustical Engineering may design machinery, work with transport, agricultural equipment and medical diagnostics, concerning themselves with the sound issues related to design and manufacture. They will work in real estate to reduce noise pollution, in the entertainment industry to improve sound and in researching all aspects of sound waves through physical objects. It is expected that there will be a 10% increase in demand of this type of job within the engineering sector over the next few years, particularly in entertainment.
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Aerospace Engineers design, test, and oversee the construction of aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, or other airborne national security systems. Advanced positions involve the management of large design projects. Though the majority of their time is spent in an office environment, some Aerospace Engineers may be required to work in a construction environment when a completed design is finally being created. Becoming an Aerospace Engineer requires a great deal of education and work experience, including at least a bachelor's degree from a 5-year ABET-accredited program, professional engineering licensure, and multiple years of shadowing another aerospace engineer. Growth in the field is expected to remain average compared to other professions.
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Analytical Chemists are specialized scientists that perform experiments to determine the composition and functioning of different chemical compounds. They spend the majority of their days working in laboratories and offices experimenting on various compounds, analyzing data, and working with other scientists. Analytical Chemists often handle dangerous chemicals and must follow strict procedures to ensure their own safety. Many work for private research firms, pharmaceutical companies, or testing labs. Though it is possible to obtain an entry-level position in Analytical Chemistry with a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s or Ph.D. is required to perform independent research.
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Did you know that three new species of human have been discovered in the last 12 years? Now extinct, the Denisovans, “Hobbits”, and Red Deer Cave people survived until very recently, overlapping with modern humans. These discoveries, made by biological anthropologists, have shaken the anthropological world, and our understanding of ourselves as the only humans around for at least 20,000 years. Modern humans today are no less varied or interesting. Globalization has opened up a world of new opportunities for learning about other cultures. Cultural anthropologists study other societies (as well as our own) to understand human behavior. Anthropologists make fascinating discovering that unravel our past, introduce us to our neighbors, and help us understand what it means to be human.
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Have you ever dreamed of launching an expedition into an unknown world, uncovering lost tombs, discovering buried treasure, thwarting ancient curses and adventure! Movies and legends have portrayed Archaeology as a romanticised and sensationalist profession. While this is an exaggeration, Archaeology can still be an exciting and exhilarating career choice. If you want to discovering more about humankind's past and the secrets it holds, Archaeology may be the perfect career choice for you.
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Architectural Historians study, write about and preserve the architecture of our built heritage – buildings and urban landscape. They can work in many areas concerning buildings and built history due to the nature of their qualifications. Mostly, they will work in education such as public engagement for one of our local, state or Federal heritage bodies. They may work as buildings historians, or engage or advise on recreating historic buildings with authentic methods for the TV & movie industry, for living museums or to preserve the authenticity of a town by maintaining the aesthetic of new builds.
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Asbestos Abatement Managers work in an area of the construction concerned with the demolition or remodeling of buildings. They identify possible risks and put in place health and safety measures to protect on-site personnel and the public against the risk of ingesting or inhaling dust particles and other toxic material. They typically specialize in asbestos (a common 20th century building material that was later revealed to have toxic properties making it dangerous to human health), but also abatement of other toxic material too.
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Have you been following the progress of the Mars rovers, or India’s impressive feat of entering Mars’ orbit on the first try? Did you hear about the European Space Agency’s asteroid landing? Did you know that we can tell what stars and planets are made of by studying the light they emit or reflect?
While astronomy is a universally interesting subject, the not-so-distant prospects of manned missions to Mars, moon colonies, and asteroid mining may make this the most exciting time to become an astronomer since the 1960s. The discoveries of dark matter and dark energy - invisible forces at work in the universe - go to show that there’s still much we don’t know about the cosmos. Who knows what amazing discoveries you might make as an astronomer!
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Atmospheric Dispersion Modelers work with air quality professionals and meteorologists to determine how atmospheric pollutants may disperse over a local or wider area. Using this data, they design models and present them in digestible formats for stakeholders. They may work in a variety of roles but typically with government environmental bodies and meteorological services to predict and advise on air quality data and predict patterns of distribution. This data can have implications for other industries and decision makers, and be used in potential legal action against polluting businesses.
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Atmospheric Science is the umbrella term for scientists, researchers, modelers, data capture specialists and others that work with the atmosphere. This includes meteorology and weather analysis, but there is more to the discipline than that and qualified atmospheric scientists can work in a broad scope of jobs. It will also include pollution analysis, pollen count studies, in climate science research (as specialists in the atmosphere, complementing other specialists elsewhere), paleoclimate research, study of the ozone layer and more.
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Biochemists study biological processes at the molecular level. While they study the small, their work makes a very large contribution to society. How things work at the molecular level affects an entire organism. Biochemists use their expertise to investigate the causes and effects of disease, and how to potentially suppress them. Some research how chemical pollutants and environmental toxins affect the microscopic workings of wildlife and people. And investigating plant processes can help us put them to work as contamination cleanup agents and fuels. Biochemists are curious about life and strive to solve important problems.
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Did you know that most people not of African descent have at least some Neanderthal DNA? This fascinating and slightly unsettling discovery was made possible by the increasingly complex abilities of computing technology and the sequencing of the human genome. Due to the arrival of advanced computing, many types of analyses have recently become possible, such as discovering drug treatments for genetic disorders. The explosion of "big data" in human biology, wildlife biology, and ecology has grown so unruly - and promising - that a new field dedicated to managing it is emerging. Enter the bioinformatics specialist.
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Biological Oceanography shares space with Marine Biology but it covers more. Whereas Marine Biology looks at the lifeforms that interact in the oceans, Biological Oceanography looks at the chemical makeup of the ocean and the impact of physical processes on life. Biological Oceanographers will look at the overall environment and ecology, taking into account such processes as tectonic plate movement, geology and jet streams.
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Biology and Biological Science concerns the nature of living things. Anything that is biological is life – viruses, bacteria, plants, animals and everything in the gaps between. Those with qualifications in this subject can work in a range of biological applications. They may work in medicals research as virologists and epidemiologists, in conservation of threatened species and managing breeding programs, in education (schools and colleges) or working with government agencies for public health protection or in forensics with law enforcement. There is no end to their possibilities.
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Biophysics is the science of biology as it applies to the physical world around us, specifically the laws of physics. Much like biochemistry, which is a bridge between biology and chemistry, it is a similar bridge between biology and physics. It is the examination of the complexity of life, evolution, and the mathematical laws behind nature and natural processes. They look at the largest life forms down to the smallest individual cells and biological “parts” that make up a body.
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Biostatisticians analyze data collected from medical studies or clinical trials and use these results to draw conclusions or make predications about future events. Sometimes they may oversee the collection of data or design clinical research trials as well. Most of these specialized statisticians work in offices every day utilizing computer programs to examine data or collaborating with other scientists. However, some may spend a great deal of time performing fieldwork or teaching on a University level. Due to the rising demand for new and innovative pharmaceuticals, the job demand for this occupation is expected for grow much more in 10 years than the average profession. To become a Biostatistician, one must hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field. However, most go on to obtain their master’s or doctorate degrees.
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Those who work in chemical oceanography are a special kind of oceanographer. Rather than looking at the biology, ecosystems and evolving nature of our oceans, they study the chemical composition of the world’s ocean bodies. They will examine such phenomenon as coral bleaching, carbon content, the impact of volcanoes and earthquakes and other processes that affect the acidity of the oceans. People who work in this sector are at the forefront of examining the impact of climate change and pollution on our oceans.
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Chemistry is one of the core “hard” sciences, and one of the oldest forms of science. Chemists study the chemicals that make up our world and the solar system around us. They look at the building blocks that make up life, including DNA. In environmental science, they will work in developing chemical fertilizers or study the impact that industrial chemicals and pollutants might have on human health, ecology and the air and water.
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The field of climatology is growing in exciting directions today. From academics and forecasting to environmental and industry positions, climatologists can have a direct influence on the direction of applied atmospheric science. What an exciting place to be.
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Ecology differs from other biological sciences primarily through its investigation of both the abiotic (non-living) components of an area as well as the biotic (living) components. Thus, ecologists often are involved with research that studies the interactions between the two. Although ecologists have a wide range of what they can do, typical job duties may include anything from in-field research, development of management plans, acting as a consultant for larger organizations, monitoring biodiversity, or teaching. Oftentimes, ecologists will study how human-induced impacts, for example pollution into a stream, will impact and affect the biotic communities within that area. They may plan the project from its beginning, collect field data for a period of time, and then close the project by reporting their findings with the goal of developing a management plan. In the more senior levels, ecologists may become natural resource managers or research administrators, moving away from the field work and more towards initiating poignant studies. With increased needs for comprehensive understandings of how humans are impacting environments, a career as an ecologist is an exciting one. Ecologists can land jobs in exciting international companies such as the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, or at the World Resources Institute. For more information on a career as an ecologist, a good place to start is the Ecological Society of America (ESA).
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The great Harvard entomologist Edward O. Wilson once said, "If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos." Insects play a critical role in the earth’s ecosystems. They control pests and recycle nutrients. As pollinators, they’re also vital to agriculture. Some species can be detrimental to crops, trees, and animals. Entomologists, scientists who study insects, unravel these relationships. They investigate important issues like the mysterious die-offs of commercially owned bees called "colony collapse disorder". They use their knowledge of insects to protect crops, people, livestock, and the planet.
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Fortunately, the United States has a variety of laws and regulations in place to help protect the environment. Still, we can't clean up ecosystems or protect the organisms in them if we don’t know there's a problem. Environmental biologists monitor environmental conditions such as water quality and assess the health of ecosystems, often by studying "indicator species" like worms living at the bottom of water bodies. While less than glamourous, these species can provide a picture of the overall health of an ecosystem. They also investigate how development projects might affect ecosystems and the organisms that live in them. Their recommendations can lead to plan modifications that better protect the environment.
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Nature is the ultimate engineer. It manufactures all kinds of things, from spider webs to bone, all perfectly fine tuned for their functions. And it does it all through incredibly efficient processes that recycle everything, generating zero waste. Environmental biotechnologists have been taking notes from nature. These professionals use natural organisms and processes to clean up contaminants, making the chemicals just another resource. For example, environmental biotechnologists use tough microbes and plants to clean up contaminated environments. Thanks to these workers, former industrial sites can be made safe and redeveloped, improving local environments, health, and economic activity. Other environmental biotechnologists work to make the very heart of our economy more sustainable by creating plant-based biofuels and bioplastics. Either of these specializations can lead to a promising and rewarding career.
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Chemicals are everywhere – they permeate our economy, our lives, and our environment. While we’ve already tackled some problematic ones like CFCs and DDT, new chemicals are introduced into the environment nearly every day. Sometimes, these chemicals have negative effects that go undetected for quite some time. These days, BPA in food can liners, PFOA from Teflon manufacture, and waterway-clogging, tiny plastic “microbeads” in body care products are a few of the newer challenges. Chemicals that affect the climate, air quality, coral reefs, water quality, and other aspects of the environment make environmental chemistry a fertile field for aspiring scientists who enjoy solving problems and making a difference.
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Built environments have huge impacts on the natural world that are currently being exacerbated by population growth, land-use pressure, and the fast development of new technologies. Environmental engineers are instrumental in developing and optimizing built environments in a way that maintains or improves the environmental quality at both the local and global scale. As such, they require intensive training in both conventional engineering, as well as strong understandings of ecological interactions and ecosystem health. Common responsibilities typically include system design, advising on policy and regulation decisions, consulting for natural resource management, and system evaluation and monitoring. Environmental engineers often work with industrial processes and will develop systems that reduce waste, improve resource efficiency, or mitigate impacts to the local environment. Due to the intensive knowledge base that must be developed across both the engineering and environmental fields, environmental engineers require formal university-based education and are highly competitive in the job market. It is common for environmental engineers to work at a variety of levels, including all ranges of the non-profits, private, and governmental sectors. There are a number of associations of environmental engineers that are available for further information on career options and training, but two notable ones include the American Society of Biological and Agricultural Engineers (ASABE) and the American Academy of Environmental Engineering (AAEE).
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World population projections suggest that we’ll be facing substantial resource challenges in the future, and more and more people are expected to migrate to cities over the next few decades. This urban expansion will fuel increased demand for metals and water. Also, as population increases, more waste will need to be disposed of. Environmental geologists help meet these growing challenges in safe and sustainable ways. Environmental geology deals with issues that affect - or are affected by - local geology, such as oil and mineral extraction, industrial waste disposal, and natural hazards like volcanoes and earthquakes. Environmental geologists mainly work on preventing groundwater and soil contamination by identifying suitable waste disposal sites and making them environmentally safe. They also help clean up contaminated sites. If you’re interested in geology, want to help solve tough environmental problems, and work in an applied area of specialization, a career in environmental geology may be for you.
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Did you know that, when given a choice of painted scenery, most people prefer open landscapes with water? The preeminent Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson attributes this to "biophilia", our need for nature. Specifically, we still prefer environments that were evolutionarily advantageous for us. Our preferences are hard-wired by our history. There’s a reason why some of the most highly-prized Manhattan apartments are those overlooking Central Park. The environments in which we spend time exert a strong influence on our well-being, possibly affecting everything from our attention spans to urban crime.
However, other needs seemingly conflict with our built-in need for nature. Our environments have been designed for maximum cost efficiency rather than optimal human well-being. This perceived conflict affects our built environment, as well as the natural environment. Environmental psychologists study the interactions between people and their environments.
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If you’re passionate about the environment, have a way with words, and are better with a pen than a pipette, environmental writing may be an excellent way to combine your interests and skills. Environmental writers develop and share their expertise on a topic such as water or wildlife. Or, they learn about new topics, issues, and technologies. Environmental writers help publicize the potential solutions and brilliant minds that are shaping our energy and environmental future. They also uncover new environmental challenges, bringing them to the attention of policymakers and the public.
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Abandoned mines and industrial "brownfields" unfortunately pepper the American landscape. But there’s more than what meets the eye – groundwater contamination is an issue of growing concern, largely due to wastewater injection and fracking for natural gas. Fortunately, environmental forensic scientists are on the case. At abandoned mines and brownfields, they help identify the contaminants present and how long they’ve been there, which can help determine which company is responsible. They also determine the nature and cause of contaminated wells or groundwater.
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Endangered and threatened species face many challenges, including inbreeding and lack of genetic variation due to declining populations. Isolated communities of non-endangered species are also facing challenges. As land clearing and development increase, they fragment wildlife habitats, creating isolated pockets of native wildlife and plant species. Geneticists who study genes, heredity, and genetic variation can help determine how best to boost the gene pools of these wild communities to decrease their susceptibility to disease, increase their evolutionary fitness, and increase their chances for survival.
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What do melting ice caps have to do with climate refugees in Southeast Asia? How is 3D printing related to reducing carbon emissions? How did the Mississippi River come to be, and what will happen to it in the future?
These are just a few of the questions that geographers investigate. While the word “geography” may make you think of the TV show Jeopardy, it involves much more than memorizing states and world capitals. Geography is a dynamic field that’s all about studying dynamic processes and relationships. If you’re curious about how the planet works, or about relationships between the earth and its societies, a career in geography may be for you.
Geographers are at the epicenter of the growing focus on environmental sustainability. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of geography, geographers are well-positioned to study environmental changes, and how these changes relate to humanity. Geographers can also help policymakers, corporations, and other key players understand interactions between people and the environment, and how to make them more sustainable.
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We’ve all heard the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s certainly true with maps, which is why they’ve been popping up everywhere. Maps can get information across quickly, often providing a new perspective. The proliferation of mapping apps and tools means that anyone can make their own simple maps. However, geographic information systems (GIS) is about more than just displaying data on a map – it’s also largely about analyzing it. Overlaying multiple different layers of data about the same location in a GIS allows specialists to query them in terms of their spatial relationships with each other. This approach can lead to new insights. GIS specialists use professional-level, sophisticated software to display, query, and analyze data for a wide range of applications.
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With over 4,500 species of amphibians and over 6,500 species of reptiles, "herps" comprise nearly half of all existing species. Herpetologists study these animal groups, usually with the aim of protecting and conserving them. They investigate threats to vulnerable animals like frogs, who are affected by a lethal skin disease caused by chytrid fungus. Some of these species, such as the Northern Cricket Frog, are "indicator species" or "canaries in the coal mine" whose conditions can indicate newly developing environmental problems.
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Water – it’s the key to life. We came from it, and can’t do without it. Where water goes haywire, you’ll find droughts, floods, and sinking coastlines. It may sound like a disaster movie, but due to climate change, these phenomena are projected to occur more often in certain areas over the years to come. Hydrologists play a key role in studying and predicting these occurrences at the local level, and assessing their potential impacts. They’re critical to communities’ efforts to adapt to climatic shifts. They’re also essential for managing water supplies for cities, industry, agriculture, and wildlife.
Hydrologists also help assess the potential impacts of proposed mining operations, large-scale farms, and industrial sites. They may also help restore contaminated surface water or groundwater to a more natural condition. People who choose a career in hydrology will have many opportunities to contribute to environmental sustainability.
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Ichthyologists are scientists that devote their time to studying the history, behavior, growth patterns, and environmental significance of different kinds of fish. They may also work to educate the public about the species’ importance to different ecosystems to advance conservation efforts. Most of these scientists spend their workdays performing fieldwork and collecting data or working in a laboratory analyzing data and creating reports. Some Ichthyologists work in museums and institutes of higher education, where they may be required to give presentations on the behaviors and environmental significance of certain fish types. Most of these scientists hold a bachelor’s degree at minimum, but many go on to obtain their master’s or doctorate degrees.
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We know that exposure to particle pollution and other air contaminants can lead to asthma and cardiovascular disease. We know less about how this occurs at the molecular level, how to treat these conditions, and how to prevent them from developing. Immunologists who study the immune system work on these important issues. They work on how to treat, and hopefully cure, autoimmune diseases like asthma, lupus, and type-1 diabetes. Some research how environmental factors like pollution and lifestyle affect the immune system. Immunologists specializing in other species may even develop cures, treatments, or preventative measures to protect wildlife from the diseases that threaten them.
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We can sometimes identify environmentally damaged areas just by looking, or correlate health complaints to a nearby factory or mine. Fish kills may implicate an upstream factory. But we don’t really know, or at least can’t prove, the causes of these types of events without scientific testing. Environmental laboratory technicians test samples for pollutants and contaminants that affect the environment and human health. While other types of lab technicians do similar testing, environmental lab technicians focus on tests that directly relate to environmental and environmental health issues. They’re the ones who test for paint-chipped lead in soil, protecting children from developmental delays. They test for contaminants in groundwater, protecting us all.
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Mammalogists observe and study the lives of particular mammals in a number of different capacities. The exact nature of the work depends on the Mammalogist's specialty, which can range from the behaviors of a particular mammal to the taxonomy of multiple mammalian groups. Some Mammalogists are required to observe mammals in their natural habitat, meaning that they must travel out into the field and spend a great deal of time alone in potentially adverse weather conditions. All Mammalogists possess at least a bachelor's degree in zoology, ecology, or other field, though many go on to obtain their master's or Ph.d. Though the anticipated growth of this profession is relatively slow, the profession's importance has become more important than ever thanks to growing environmental concerns and ever-increasing human populations.
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Marine biologists study the biological components of our oceans, their interactions with one another, and their relationships with the non-living components as well. The study of marine biology is a particularly important one, as oceans are some of the most highly polluted ecosystems globally, and fish populations have been hugely overfished within the last half century. As marine biology is one of the most comprehensive fields to investigate the inter-workings of oceanic environments, it is common for marine biologists to specialize within one subject area, for example a single marine species, behavior, technique, environmental impact or ecosystem. Due to the high specialization that occurs within the field of marine biology, it is often rare to see a job title listed as “Marine Biologist.” Instead, it is common to find titles such as marine microbiologist, fishery biologist, or systems analyst. Other marine biologists even delve into more socioeconomic related topics looking at topics such as access to common resources and the “tragedy of the commons.” While currently the job market for marine biologists is highly competitive, emerging fields such as marine biotechnology that explores biomedical solutions from marine organisms offer great opportunities. Marine biologists require formal training through a high-quality degree program, most of which are located at universities along the coasts of the globe.
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Metals are crucial to nearly every aspect of modern society, from bridges to skyscrapers to smartphones. Metallurgists are engineers who study the properties of metals so we can extract them from ores and use them efficiently. They make sure that the right metal is used to make the right product, and test for product quality. Their efforts help make things made with metals safe. They can also make extraction and manufacturing processes, as well as the products themselves, more efficient, making them easier on the environment.
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Meteorologists are tasked with the phenomenally difficult assignment of identifying, modeling, and predicting weather and climate patterns. Meteorologists are found in a variety of different organizations, anywhere from news forecasts, the military, the airlines, the farmers, or even road crews. Primarily, their duties involve taking data from the land, sea and upper atmosphere to develop predictive computer models of future climate and weather events, and then communicating that information to third parties. Meteorologists that focus primarily on long term climate change are of increasing importance within the environmental sector, with increasing numbers of governments and organizations recognizing the importance of adapting towards future climatic pressures. As future climatic patterns are largely sporadic and unknown at this point, there is significant work to be conducted here. Meteorologists may team up with others involved in the environmental sector to see how climatic changes will affect existing environmental problems. For example, they may work with ecologists to study how the suitable range of a particular species may change with expected variation in regional climatic patterns. A career as a meteorologist is thus a broad one, and can range from being involved in heavily science-oriented projects to the more traditional communication of short-term weather events to the general public.
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Microbiology is the study of microscopic organisms. Thus, microbiologists are hugely important in the study of disease and environmental health. Due to the vast number of microorganisms that inhabit our planet, microbiologists often specialize in a certain type of microbe. Specializations of microbiologists include, but are not limited to, virologists (study viruses), bacteriologists (studying bacteria), and mycologists (studying fungi.) Microbiologists are invaluable to society because they ensure the environmental health of the food, air, and water that humans consume on a daily basis. Additionally, they are responsible for the development of medicines and preventative measures for malicious microorganisms. Microbiologists’ duties within the environmental sphere commonly include both in-field data collection and in-laboratory sample analysis. The day-to-day activities of an environmental microbiologist might include collecting water samples from a polluted water source, identifying the responsible microorganism, and either identifying the source it originates from or developing a solution for restoring the water source to its natural environmental conditions. Pursuing a career as a microbiologist requires formal training at a four year institution in a microbiological science program.As microorganisms are some of the fastest evolving species on the planet and increasing population densities exacerbate public health concerns, a career path as a micro-biologist is a rewarding and exciting one to take.
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Metals like copper and rare earth minerals are integral to modern computing and our mobile electronic devices. As you might imagine, demand for these minerals, also called rare earth elements, is on the rise. As the name implies, these valuable minerals are few and far apart – not highly concentrated. Mineralogists study minerals and often work for mining companies, where they help process minerals in ores to make the most of them. They have the fascinating task of studying the geochemical properties and processes of the earth.
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Mining is crucial to civilization as we know it. For better or worse, Western society still runs largely on coal energy. But even as coal is eventually replaced by other energy sources, we’ll still require metals for skyscrapers, manufacturing, consumer products, and the rare earth minerals needed for the ever-increasing numbers of electronics.
NASA is even discussing mining asteroids for their metals, and the European Space Agencyset down a lander on an asteroid in November 2014. Who knows – maybe someday you could help plan an asteroid mining mission!
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Molecular Biologists perform experiments on the molecular level to better understand how small particles behave and operate. These scientists are essential to developing newer and better treatments for various illnesses and diseases. Most Molecular Biologists spend the majority of their time in a lab environment or preparing data reports in an office. Prospective Molecular Biologists must be prepared to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry, biology, or other related field. Performing postdoctoral work is essential to receiving more training and launching a full-fledged career. Though it is possible to obtain an entry-level position with a Bachelor’s degree, it is extremely difficult to advance without pursuing further education.
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While marine biologists focus more on the biotic (living) components of marine ecosystems, oceanographers focus more on the abiotic (non-living) components. Similar to marine biology, there are many specializations within oceanography that an individual can focus on: ocean circulation, plate tectonics and sea floor geology, nutrient cycling, and the chemical components of the ocean. As the abiotic components of oceans are highly interdependent on their surrounding terrestrial and atmospheric biomes, oceanographers often require strong interdisciplinary understandings of the physics and chemical principles that govern interactions between the ocean and its surrounding biomes. The day-to-day activities of an oceanographer may require collecting samples from the sea, sea floor or atmosphere; developing computer based models that predict oceanic phenomena; or analyzing and synthesizing results to convey to third parties. Oceanographers often fund their research projects through grants and thus their work commonly follows the standard scientific method protocols. Oceanographers commonly work within academia, but may also work on interdisciplinary teams in industry or government. Due to the highly interdisciplinary nature of the work, strong understandings of biology, chemistry, geology, and physics are required. Thus, training through a broad spectrum degree program such as environmental science with an emphasis on oceans will best prepare individuals for careers as oceanographers.
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From Da Vinci and the Wright Brothers to Hitchcock and Happy Feet, birds have always had the ability to capture our imagination. Our modern airplanes make them no less mysterious. Birds are endlessly various – large and small, flightless and airborne, the hummingbird and the hawk. It’s no wonder that many people enjoy bird watching, and some go on to make careers out of studying them. These endearing creatures are facing threats from climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, and even predation by domestic cats. Ornithologists can help us better understand the behavior and needs of birds, and address the challenges facing them.
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While the word "paleontologist" may conjure scenes from Jurassic Park, paleontology is about much more than dinosaurs. While it focuses on prehistory, it uses cutting-edge scientific methods to unearth the climatic, biologic, ecologic, and evolutionary stories that may serve as modern cautionary tales. Many geoscientists agree that life on earth is undergoing a human-made sixth major extinction, in a proposed new geologic age dubbed the Anthropocene - the epoch of humans. Learning about the climatic changes of the past and the Achilles' heels of long extinct species can help us forge successful plans for the future of the planet and the human race.
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Spray-on solar cells are shaking things up in the solar power world. Thanks to physicists and other scientists, we can now spray working solar cells onto thin, flexible materials, which can eventually be embedded in windows, cars, and other unlikely objects. "Thin-film photovoltaics" is a burgeoning field. Researchers are working on increasing their efficiency. The next generation of thin-film photovoltaics could change the energy game. Physicist do a lot more than solve equations and study theory. They use their knowledge of physical properties to improve electronics and materials, making them more efficient and better for the environment. They’re enhancing the efficiency of tidal, wave, geothermal, and wind power systems. Physicists are at the cutting edge of solving real-world problems.
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Primatologists are a specific kind of Zoologist that works specifically with non-human primates. Depending on the Primatologist's specialty, people working in this field may have very different responsibilities. For example, some Primatologists may be responsible for studying ape DNA in a laboratory, while other Primatologists may be required to observe wild primates. Though this profession requires different kinds of work in varying settings, fieldwork can often be strenuous and physically taxing. The educational requirements for this profession are quite advanced and may require years of schooling and hard work. Ultimately, Primatologists are important for understanding some of humankind's closest living relatives, allowing us to learn and understand more about ourselves in the process.
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Human beings see visible light with our eyes, but there are many other types of energy on the electromagnetic spectrum we’re missing out on. Our senses are actually quite limited; we have no built-in way to detect near-infrared, mid-infrared, thermal, or microwave energy. Why? Because it wasn't necessary for our survival. Now, we need all the tools we can get to survive and thrive on a degraded planet. Fortunately, scientific advances have led to a suite of remote sensing tools and techniques that help us study our environment in new ways. Remote sensing refers to “sensing” or collecting information about objects from a distance. Remote sensing technicians collect information on how an object of study interacts with the electromagnetic spectrum at various wavelengths. They allow us to “extend our senses” so we can “see” how other wavelengths of light and energy interact with the world around us. For example, air and satellite photos record how visible energy from the sun is reflected by the earth. By analyzing how additional wavelengths are reflected by the earth, we can determine ocean temperatures, the amount of water inside plants, the health of forests, land use changes, elevation changes, air pollution levels and more. It’s an exciting, rapidly changing, and growing high-tech field.
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At the center of the earth lies a solid inner core, surrounded by a liquid outer core. And you probably remember there’s also the mantle and the crust. But how on earth do we know this? The answer is seismology. There are different types of seismic waves, some of which are faster or slower than others. Some travel through rock and liquid, while others can only travel through rock – not liquid. Seismologists use this information to study how waves from earthquakes and other sources traveled through the earth, cleverly discovering the internal structure of our planet. Many seismologists help us predict when and where seismic events like earthquakes will occur.
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Volcanologists study the history, behavior, and functioning of volcanoes. They typically do this by traveling to locations with old or current volcanic activity, collecting samples, examining the data in a laboratory, and then communicating their findings to the world. They may also use this data to predict future volcanic eruptions and protect populations living around the site of interest. This position may require extensive traveling and outdoor work, as well as long or irregular hours when performing fieldwork. Most of these scientists have a master’s or doctorate’s degree, as specialization in the field is often impossible during undergraduate education. However, holding a bachelor’s may help obtain a simple research assistant position in the field. Volcanology is a promising field, growing faster than the average position due to increased interest in resource conservation and environmental protection.
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Wildlife Biologists are esteemed biological scientists that explore the hidden lives of animals and localized ecosystems. The ever-growing human population and its effects on precious ecosystems has become a source of jobs within this industry. This career is appealing to those who enjoy working outside, with animals, or studying samples in a lab environment.
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Zoologists study the behaviors, origins, genetics, health, and life stages of animals. As zoologists specialize in understandingthe biology of a large number of animals, they often work in conjunction with wildlife managers, marine biologists, or veterinarians to help manage animal populations in both captivity and the wild. One of the biggest places of employment for zoologists is, true to the name, within a zoo. Other less-well known places of employment include state parks, laboratories, academia, or environmental conservation groups. Zoologists can choose to specialize in a particular branch such as mammalogy (mammals), ichthyology (fish), herpetology (reptiles), or ornithology (birds). Training for a career as a zoologist is best undertaken with a degree in either biology or zoology. Although it is possible to enter the field with a bachelor’s degree, the attainment of a master’s level or higher is preferred. Given the very high rate of species loss at present, a career as a zoologist is a fascinating one. Zoologists might be involved in day-to-day laboratory, field, or literature based research. They may act within larger interdisciplinary research teams, or work hands on with animals in the development of breeding programs. Other skills that may suit the aspiring zoologist are a familiarity with technology, as high-tech scientific equipment is commonly used within zoology-related research projects.
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