What Is a Paleomagnetist?

Paleomagnetists examine the magnetism of archaeological finds and ancient landscapes to work their age.

What Does a Paleomagnetist Do?

Paleomagnetists take measurements from rocks, fossils, soft sediment and archaeological remains in order to calculate their age. This may seem like a small niche area with little practical use, but its applications are immense and is expected to have more use in the coming years as geomagnetism overall understands more of our world. Over time, the Earth's magnetic profile undergoes small and large changes. It changes in line with geological events such as volcanoes, asteroid strikes, shifting continents and so on. It also undergoes natural fluctuation through changing polarity. These fluctuations are recorded in a long-term record. The more recordings are taken, analyzed and calculated, the bigger picture we have.

Paleomagnetists take recordings from sedimentary rocks, old lava flows, from organic and inorganic inclusions in these sediments and rock flows, and in archaeological finds. The discipline is widely credited with resurrecting (and providing strong evidence for) continental drift thanks to the geological records taken from continental divides. Latterly, they have moved into studying geomagnetism, biomagnetism (the study of magnetic fields of living organisms) and environmental magnetism. This evidence does not just permit us to date rocks, but to define environmental conditions at the time the recording is taken. It has potential applications for ocean geology, atmospheric sciences, anthropology and all the geosciences.

Where Does a Paleomagnetist Work?

Despite the potential data we can extract from the work of paleomagnetists, this remains a small niche subfield under the broader scope of geology. The majority of qualified personnel in this area will work in academia; they will often work as part of wider projects with archeologists and anthropologists, paleontologists, paleoecologists and any other where dating of fossilized materials may be required. They will work in research and technical services, either in the field collecting data or compiling them as part of academic papers.

A percentage will work for technical services and scientific outsourcing businesses although compared to other types of geologist, there will be less demand in industry. They will spend much of their time in a lab, compiling data recordings for reports.

Individuals may find relevant work in petrochemicals or fossil fuel prospecting. Some resources have magnetic indicators that may make locating them easier. In these roles, graduates may be required to have technical skills in such tools as GIS, surveying and GPS.

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What Is the Average Paleomagnetist's Salary?

Little data on salary exists for this specialist area due to the lack of numbers. Generally, these are classed as a type of geologist and therefore a geoscientist. The average median salary for all geoscientists at May 2015 was $89,700. This included geologists and all specialists. The highest paying area was oil and gas extraction. With your background in geology, you may be well-placed for a role like this. However, you may or may not get the chance to explore your unique individual skills when completing your studies in paleomagnetism. Engineering serviced paid $80,180 which is slightly less than the media. Management & scientific consulting was lower still at $73,840. State government was lower again at $69,790. Finally, education came up at $66,230. This is where the majority of paleomagnetists are likely to find work, in research and teaching.

Paleomagnetism Jobs & Job Description

As a small niche segment of geology, paleomagnetists share some of the same job duties as other geologists with a few key distinctions. An entry level paleomagnetist would be responsible for:

  • Maintaining magnetization and demagnetization equipment including magnetometers
  • Plan and carry out field studies, in which they visit locations to collect samples and conduct surveys
  • Preparing samples for paleomagnetic analysis
  • Conducting paleomagnetic measurements and laboratory tests on samples collected in the field
  • Assist with data processing and recording of all analysis and measurements
  • Develop geological maps and charts
  • Ensure laboratory is fully supplied and in working order

The role of a senior paleomagnetist is similar to a junior paleomagnetist with the incorporation of administrative and management duties as well as the lead writing of scientific reports. The components of a more experienced paleomagnetist's job description include:

  • Supervise and support research team
  • Coordinate work with other scientists, including archeologists, anthropologists, paleontologists, and paleoecologists both in the field and in the lab
  • Develop and implement research projects
  • Maintain laboratory safety protocols
  • Compile findings and present them as part of a scientific report
  • Review reports and research done by other scientists

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Paleomagnetist?

High School students need to study a range of social subjects and geoscience for acceptance onto an archeology degree. Ideally, they should study history and geography. They will also require at least one of the hard sciences. Biology would be ideal for the ethnobotany side of the role. Math will be needed, as students may need to conduct statistical analyses as part of any advanced research project at degree level and beyond.

Students at degree level should seek anthropology or archeology degrees where available. Minors and electives should complement the diverse range of subjects of a modern archeology degree. Statistics will be useful but not essential. Biology or botany will be advisable too, as will geography. The student may also opt for a geography degree, but the study should focus on ecology and human geography. Students with an undergraduate degree should not have difficulty getting most entry level roles. However, a master's is vital for students who wish to specialize. Research projects are a core part of a MA/MS and your future role in paleoethnobotany will depend on independent research. Doctorates are suitable for academia, research and teaching, and will not be required for most other roles.

Paleomagnetism - Related Degrees

What Kind Of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Paleomagnetists Have?

This niche is a division of archeology/anthropology with the following dedicated organizations.

  • Association For Environmental Archaeology: This global body works in the niche of exploring how humans in the past interacted with the environment - including botany and zoology. They release regular publications and hold conferences
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