What Is a Marine Geologist?

A Marine Geologist is a type of geoscientist that studies the rocks and rock processes relating to the oceans.

What Does a Marine Geologist Do?

Marine geologists are subset of geologists that study the history, and the processes, of the ocean floor - the land mass that sites beneath the ocean bodies of the world. They differ from Geological Oceanographers in that they are less involved in the makeup of the ocean rock, and more involved in the results of geology, rather than the causes. Their discipline incorporates extremely long processes such as plate tectonics, but also the ongoing and short terms processes such as volcanic activity, earthquakes and plate tectonics beneath the ocean waves. It is a growing area as we still don't fully understand what goes on in the deepest parts of our world. In many cases, we still do not have the technology to reach the very bottom of the ocean. The bottom of the ocean remains the last unexplored frontier.

Although a small and young discipline, its evidence is vital to our understanding of how our world works. Their study includes not only the spread of the continents over millions of years, but also in our understanding of short-term events such as tsunamis (often caused by earthquakes). Neither is it just about rock formations and processes. They will study sediments for various data and the impacts that rock and sediment might have on geology and ocean biology.

Where Does a Marine Geologist Work?

Marine Geologists are a type of geologist, which in turn is a type of Earth scientist. Their specialist knowledge is useful in a variety of academic study areas and therefore, many different sectors. The majority employers of Marine Geology is in fossil fuel extraction and prospecting. A large amount of natural gas and oil sits beneath the oceans, and as we surpass peak oil, their skills and new technologies are essential. Oil and gas extraction employs some 22% of marine geologists.

Some 17% of Earth scientists work in engineering services. For marine geology, this will often be in the siting and design of offshore oil and gas rigs. Their knowledge of the seabed geology is vital in the safe and most efficient use of the natural geology when prospecting for any resource beneath the ocean bed. Around 15% work in management, scientific and technical consulting - often for third party organizations, fulfilling much the same roles. They may be involved in consultations for such projects as wind farms.

Around 7% work in education, typically university academia, but also in research departments and labs studying the ocean floor. Around the same percentage work in government roles; here, they may be involved in civic planning for public projects where the ocean bed is a consideration. They may also work for disaster relief where the source of the disaster has a marine geological cause (tsunami).

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What Is the Average Marine Geologist Salary?

The median salary for this type of geoscientist, according to May 2020 data, is $93,580. The lowest earning 10% earned around $51,890 and the highest were able to command salaries in excess of $201,150. The median average salary for oil and gas extraction was $125,670. Management & scientific services paid considerably less than the median at $79,540.*

Marine Geology Jobs & Job Description

A career studying the ocean floor as a Marine Geologist can be very exciting and requires a unique set of skills. While jobs vary depending on the region of the world in which they work, the marine geologist skill set includes:

  • A Bachelor's of Science degree in geological oceanography, marine geology or related field of study
  • Ability to work outdoors around bodies of water and perform fieldwork
  • Perform work in extreme temperatures, weather and environmental conditions
  • Possess excellent written, verbal and technical skills
  • Capacity to travel to work sites and travel may occur by watercraft, aircraft or land transportation
  • Knowledgeable with applicable local, state and federal environmental laws and regulations
  • Obtain required environmental permits and requirements; prepare and submit environmental permit applications
  • Investigate and characterize aquatic sediment through fieldwork
  • Collect underwater samples and data using specialized monitoring equipment
  • Analyze and document all site samples and data collection
  • Produce data reports and organize into databases
  • Participate in aquatic dredge and disposal based on sediment characterizations
  • Develop models and graphical representation of ocean floor observations and measurements

A Senior Marine Geologist oversees the work of entry level Marine Geologists and has the skills and experience in the field to make managerial decisions regarding personnel or projects. This position incorporates skills used in an entry-level position and includes:

  • A Master's degree in marine geology, geological oceanography or related field of study
  • Design fieldwork projects and project schedules
  • Mentor employees and provide recommendations or feedback during project progress
  • Document project progress and produce regular interval reports of data
  • Hire and oversee any subcontractors required to perform project tasks
  • Communicate with clients, management or government personnel at meetings, seminars and conferences
  • Develop project budgets outlining all costs associated with fieldwork and laboratory work
  • Consult with clients and other stakeholders
  • Provide scientific research results to be published into scientific journals
  • Teach marine geological concepts and scientific knowledge in educational institutions

What Is the Job Demand for Marine Geologists?

Job demand for marine geologists is expected to grow some 7% between 2020 and 2030.* A variety of roles, particularly in fossil fuel extraction, is expected to provide the bulk of this new demand. Conversely, the greater need for environmental protection and understanding of the wider ecology means that Marine Geologists may also find a number of openings in marine conservation and protection. They will be involved in the planning and construction of wind farms and emerging technologies such as tidal power.

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Marine Geologist?

In most cases, students will be required to have a bachelor's degree at the very minimum. However, this may not be enough even for entry-level jobs where there is low competition or high demand. High school students should focus on the hard sciences - particularly chemistry and physics - before selecting a degree in a similar subject. Typically, a degree in geography, oceanography and physics are suitable. Students should choose minors and electives that reflect this interest. Seismology, marine physics and other relating study courses can complement the degree.

A master's degree will be more suitable for more roles, particularly if the student wishes to play an active role in research. Only a master's degree provides students with the study, research and practical project management skills for their career as a researcher in the field. Where the student prefers a career in applied science (such as petrochemicals) this is even more essential.

Doctorates are suitable for academia and teaching, but may also be preferable for those who wish to work in government roles in a place where they may become decision makers.

Marine Geology- Related Degrees

What Kind Of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Marine Geologists Have?

As a small sub-discipline, and still relatively young, there are a handful of groups and bodies for professionals in this area

  • International Marine Minerals Society: The world's largest body representing those who work in marine mineralogy, resources. Their aim is to improve understanding of marine mineral deposits
  • The Geological Society Marine Studies Group: The UK's highest authority on geology has a specific ongoing working group for geologists working with ocean processes. They work internationally in sharing information

*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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