What Is a Geochemist?

A geochemist is a person who works in the branch of chemistry that studies how chemicals interact with the natural world.

What Does a Geochemist Do?

Geochemists use applied tools and methods of chemistry in a geoscience context. Their expert knowledge is required anywhere that combines geology, chemistry and sometimes other associated geosciences such as ecology and geography. Experts in this area have a number of potential career options available. The first and largest employer is in prospecting for natural resources such as fossil fuel, minerals and metals, and anything else industry might mine from the land such as clay and bitumen, or building materials such as limestone. They will spend their time mostly in offices looking through GIS and satellite data or survey information to find most likely, efficient and cost-effective methods of acquiring those resources.

However, mining and prospecting is not the limit of their employment options. Some can work at the opposite end of the scale, examining water bodies and the atmosphere for pollutants and determining how that pollution came about (natural process or industrial malpractice or negligence? And if so, what is the cause?) They will also be involved in environmental remediation and clean up or providing information for legal cases if a prosecution is likely following negligence.

Some may also work in academia, researching interactions between chemicals and aspects of the natural environment including their impact on organic life. In each case, they will be trained in a variety of technologies such as gas chromatograph-mass spectrometers, differential scanning calorimeters, carbon analyzers and thermogravimetry readers and other instruments. They will also be expected to write reports and in some cases, produces data and modelling sets.

Where Does a Geochemist Work?

Geochemist is a type of geoscience, one of the many that come under this broad area of study that concerns the natural processes and interactions of the planet on which we live. BLS shows little data specifically for this niche area, but as it is an important geoscience, the data they do have is likely to generally reflect the provided information. According to a report released in May 2017, the industry that employs the most geochemists is presently architecture, engineering and related with 26% of the current employee base.

The second highest area is mining and quarrying at 24%. This includes fossil fuel prospecting. They will work to locate, source and secure raw material supplies. Between these two employers, they have around 50% of the workforce of geochemists/geoscientists.

The third highest area is Federal government at 7%, much lower than the other two areas of industry. This can include a wide variety of government organizations from conservation and research posts such as NASA, NOAA and even FEMA. They will also work in EPA monitoring for signs of pollution and ensure organizations adhere to their obligations. A further 7% work in state government for state-based environmental organizations.

6% work in academia, research and teaching, lecturing and managing graduate courses.

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What Is the Average Geochemist Salary?

Geochemists, who fall under the broader BLS category of geoscientists, earned a median salary of $93,580 as of May 2020. The range is from $51,890 for the lowest 10% grade up to $201,150 for the highest paid employees. The industry that paid the most was mining, quarrying and oil & gas extraction with a median salary of $125,670. Second place was the Federal government with a median salary of $104,210.*

What Is the Job Demand for Geochemist?

There is a projected 7% increase in this type of work between 2020 and 2030.* With a growing need for energy while simultaneously requiring environmental protection in its acquisition while still depending on fossil fuels is ensuring this industry's long-term future. Mining and quarrying will always be required to construct homes and commercial/industrial premises of the future although the situation with renewable energy may cause a blip in fossil fuel prospecting - but only a minor one.

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Geochemist?

High School students with an aptitude for the sciences will make a good career choice as a geochemist, but academic performance must continue to be high in the conventional sciences - chemistry, physics and to a lesser extent, biology. Math will certainly be a requirement for application to a relevant degree and so will information science and technology. Those who are most proficient could benefit from taking a prep school during the summer to determine whether a college degree is definitely something they would like to pursue.

Most entry-level jobs will require a bachelor's degree at the very least while some will expect graduate study too. Relevant undergraduate degrees include chemistry and physics, but also geology, natural resources and other relevant geosciences. Increasingly, you may find some colleges offer degrees in geochemistry. It's vital that you take relevant supporting minors - math up to calculus may be a requirement, so will IT skills due to the statistics and other data that you may be expected to examine and analyze every day. If Geographic Information Systems is available, this too should a priority. Internships may be recommended due to the applied nature of the role.

Postgraduate degrees will be necessary for advanced or responsible roles, particularly in teaching and academic research. For academia, you will certainly require a PhD and a successful post-doctoral research program, particularly if you wish to eventually manage research projects. Useful masters courses include environmental chemistry, particularly for those considering a career in environmental remediation

Geochemistry - Related Degrees

What Kind of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Geochemists Have?

As a growing and important area in the modern world, geochemistry has some important organization for employment, networking and industry information.

  • International Association of Geochemistry: The IAGC dedicates itself to the promotion of professional standards across the globe by sponsoring conferences, publishing work, and creating working groups of professionals
  • Geochemical Society: Promoting education of our planet and the solar system, GeoChemSoc is a not-for-profit private organization representing those who work in a wide range of fields from petrochemicals to conservation and astronomy
  • Association of Applied Geochemists: Representing geochemistry interests in government, industry and academia, this international organization has a strong focus on environmental analysis

*2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for geoscientists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.

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