5 January 2012 0 Comments

Did the earth move for you? Become a seismologist

Seismology first began around 100 years ago with the development of the first seismometer, an instrument capable of measuring earthquakes. Since then the scope of seismology has expanded to cater for the study of any interaction of seismic waves with the earth.
Seismologists are perhaps best known for their work in predicting and studying earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. Their work is critical in understanding how these events occur together with creating models that can be used in early warning defensive systems. Recently the world has witnessed the effects of some large earthquakes and resultant tsunamis; Japan’s massive earthquake in 2011 measured 8.9-magnitude and left the country devastated. While it‘s almost impossible to predict an event on this magnitude, seismologists were able to determine the danger of the subsequent aftershocks and evacuate people if necessary. Their knowledge was critical in helping the relief efforts.
In countries that lie on known fault lines, structural engineers also rely on seismologists to provide accurate information so they can design earthquake resistant structures. Japan has for a long time built skyscrapers that can flex and move to absorb the power of an earthquake.

Become a seismologist

Seismologists are also employed by private firms with many finding work within the petroleum and mining industries. They are often required to analyse the effect that man-made events, like controlled explosions, have on the earth. By observing how man-made seismic waves travel through the earth, seismologists can provide information as to the likely composition of the ground underneath. For a petroleum company, this analysis could help them discover new oil fields deep underground.
Another important application of seismology is that of monitoring underground nuclear testing sites. Nuclear explosions create huge seismic waves that can be detected from long distances; this information is useful to determine if countries are complying with test ban treaties and helps to maintain world peace.

Interests & Study
You should have a keen interest in science with a curiosity about the earth’s structure. You should also have excellent analytical skills with the ability to present your results clearly and systematically. Seismologists often work alone however you must also be able to work in a team when required.
Most seismologists often have a first degree in geology, geophysics, maths or earth sciences before specialising with a Masters or Doctoral in Seismology.

Working lifestyle
The working lifestyle will vary considerably depending on your employment. Seismologists involved in studying earthquakes will mainly be lab or office based working typical 9 till 5 office hours. Those that are involved in oil exploration by find themselves in far flung corners of the world or at sea, working 12 hour shifts. In the exploration role you also often work a shift pattern with four weeks on and four weeks off. However the pay is also significantly greater if you choose to work in oil exploration. An experienced seismologist working for an international oil firm could expect to earn as much as $130,000 per year.

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