What Is a Geomorphologist?

Geomorphologists study individual natural topographical features to attempt to understand the processes that shape the world.

What Does a Geomorphologist Do?

Geological processes have massive and profound impacts on our planet. Plate tectonics give our world shape, both under the sea and on land. Yet there are small and localized processes that require in depth study of their own. Localized topographies cannot always be explained using large, planetary shifts in tectonics. The surface of the Earth changes and is shaped by small-scale events. Geomorphology has elements of geography but also has elements of geoscience in its study and effectively bridges the two.

Geomorphology is the study of individual features and the processes that create them. These can be physical (such as weather), environmental (glaciers), chemical (rock erosion due to acidity) or biological (the biological evidence left by certain plants, trees or animals that shape the ground).

Geomorphologists look at landform history, and will study the causes and effects of terrestrial and extraterrestrial events on the ecology and local environment. Such events can include meteorite strikes, how the land is shaped by a single volcanic eruption, the ebb and flow of the tides (and therefore coastal erosion or silt deposits) and other effects. Geomorphologists study landform the concept of topography as a localized phenomenon.

To achieve this, they may use surveying equipment such as GIS, geophysical survey and aerial photography - all methods that give a wider picture of a landscape from ground level or above. They can give us an archaeological picture as well as an ecological profile.

Where Does a Geomorphologist Work?

Geomorphology is a bridge between geography and geoscience (as an applied science) and we can therefore expect to see geomorphologists in much the same types of job and areas where we would find geographers and geoscientists. The first area where the candidate can expect to find work is in Engineering Consulting and building planning. Engineers and construction firms need to account for the environmental processes that could affect the building work. They might need to understand such questions as: Is the area prone to flooding? If so, is there something we can do about it? What should we do? How a building or complex of buildings are built, and the materials from which they are built, may depend on the report and findings of a geomorphologist.

For much the same reason they will also found openings in Environmental Consulting and Planning. Much of the roles will be the same, but instead of working from a point of view of land development, they will focus on conservation and how to preserve or improve landscapes. Typically, they will be involved in preventing coastal erosion. Similarly, they may work for Federal or state government bodies in charge of environmental protection (NPS, EPA etc). They may enter teaching as environmental science teachers or as geographers.

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What Is the Average Geomorphologist Salary?

Geomorphology is a specialist subset of geoscience. Therefore, much of the statistics relating to geomorphology will mirror the salary and job demand stats for geoscience. As at 2020, the median salary for geoscientists on average was $93,580, according to BLS.*

Geomorphology Jobs & Job Description

The Earth's surface is always changing and there are many processes involved in the way the Earth's surface changes, such as weather and erosion. A Geomorphologist studies the changes that take place over time to the Earth's surface. The duties and requirements of a Geomorphologist most often include:

  • A Bachelor's of Science degree in geomorphology, geology, hydrology or related field of study
  • Knowledge on the many processes, such as chemical, biological and physical, that are involved in changing the Earth's surface
  • Work outdoors in various environmental and challenging conditions collecting samples and geomorphic data from various geological areas of study
  • Analyze samples in a laboratory and keep an accurate record of observations and results
  • Collect geomorphic data using models, mathematical measurements, visual representation, GPS devices, and sampling methods
  • Conduct ecological investigations on various ecosystems, including land and water, to determine changes
  • Possess excellent written and oral communication to log and communicate observations
  • Map, graph and accurately display results of investigations
  • Use databases and computer software to log data collected from investigation sites
  • Assess evolution of waterways and determine impacts of dams or dam removal on waterways
  • Use specialized computer simulations to make predictions on topological changes over time
  • Aid in environmental restoration projects on land and water, complying with all environmental regulations and laws

As a Senior Geomorphologist, the requirements or tasks are similar to an entry level Geomorphologist and may include:

  • A Master's degree or Ph.D. in geomorphology, geology, hydrology or related field of study
  • Have documented experience working in geomorphology with a high degree of practical and theoretical knowledge
  • Design all details of projects; generate a project schedule and thorough budget of the project
  • Manage teams working on projects and assess results produced
  • Compile large amounts of results and geomorphological information
  • Provide insightful and helpful recommendations to project teams
  • Train and mentor team on methods and details of projects
  • Ensure that work is being conducted safely and that team members are using proper personal protective equipment
  • Oversee several work sites and travel extensively from site to site
  • Produce detailed presentations outlining investigation methods and results to present to company management, governments, clients or other stakeholders

What Is the Job Demand for Geomorphologists?

Geosciences in general can expect to experience a 7% increase in job demand between 2020 and 2030.* The sciences in general are an area of skills shortage. Increasingly, demand is moving towards environmental sciences too. In order to maintain our responsibilities on international environmental protection, and for engineering projects, public works and development to understand the environmental issues at hand. Much of the expected demand increase will be in the environmental sciences.

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Geomorphologist?

At the very minimum, students will require a bachelor's degree. There are no undergraduate degrees in geomorphology as this is a specialism that develops throughout your career. Students are advised to take a BS degree in geography, geology or anything else geoscience related such as environmental science. Where minors and electives are concerned, you should focus on hard science related modules such as physics. Math may also be an advantage for your MS application where study of statistics and other numerical evidence may be studied.

A master's degree is highly advisable as the project work associated with postgraduate degrees. This is the case whether you intend to enter a career of desk-based research or applied science in the field. Again, there are few postgraduate degrees in geomorphology and you will need to study geography, geology and environmental science. For industry jobs where you may be expected to compile reports and be part of a decision-making team, master's degrees are preferable.

Doctorates, like many disciplines, are required for senior research positions and teaching. If you intend to work in the field, then a Doctorate will not necessarily required. Doctorates may be particularly useful for high-level advisory positions though.

Geomorphology - Related Degrees

What Kind Of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Geomorphologist Have?

Geomorphology has a number of professional organizations:

  • American Geophysical Union: The AGU is the country's largest body responsible for education dissemination of geographical data and resources. The US does not have a dedicated geomorphology body, but AGU effectively fills that roll
  • British Society for Geomorphology: One of the oldest geomorphology institutes in the world. It can trace its history back to 1959 when geographers came together to discuss a landform survey of Britain

*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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