What is Geological Sciences?


Geology is the study of the Earth, its composition, its history, and it is constantly changing character.

Geologists study the origin and evolution of our planet; the chemical and physical properties of minerals, rocks, and fluids; the structure of our mobile crust - its newly forming ocean floors and its ancient drifting continents; the history of life; and the human adaptation to earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and floods.

The subject matter of geology ranges from dinosaurs to the prediction of earthquakes. If you are intensely curious about the planet on which we live, challenged by problems which involve the Earth, and are intrigued by the potential of a subject which combines the best of both the arts and sciences, geology is a major you should consider.

Geology attracts women and men who love the outdoors and thrive on practical challenges. In addition to a basic field component, the earth sciences employ much of the sophistication of chemistry, physics and engineering to interpret the nature, origin and usefulness of minerals, rocks, soils, oceans, groundwater and atmosphere.

Why is Geology important?

Geology is the study of the Earth and how it works. Geologists investigate processes that operate at and below the surface of the Earth, and the materials in which these processes occur. Geologists not only look at the present-day processes, but they examine the historic record of geologic events preserved in the rock record. Believe it or not, geology is all around us - not just in the mountains or oceans, but we actually see geology and depend on geologic resources in our every day lives. For example, if you wanted to construct a building, you would need geologic materials for construction such as gypsum, limestone, clay, sand, gravel, to name a few. Globally, we face natural hazards of one sort or another. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, droughts, groundwater pollution, hurricanes... all are dynamic processes taking place even as you read this. We can't prevent hazards from occurring. But, if we study the past and present record of these events, we can gain a better idea of how these processes work and help predict and prepare for future events. And yes, geology does involve looking at rocks. But there is so much information locked up in these rocks that can help us better predict the behavior of the Earth. Geologists keep busy trying to find, develop, and conserve natural resources. Geologists investigate our water supplies and strive to keep them clear of pollutants. Geologists are working to determine the controls on, and lessen the effects of, natural hazards. Geologists... well, you get the picture.

What do Geologists do?


Whether you are interested in fieldwork or in the laboratory, geology offers you many options for an interesting career. You might work with a rock hammer, a drilling rig, a microscope, a computer or with scale models such as wind tunnels. You might even reach the moon! Geologists investigate the materials, processes, products and history of the Earth. They often specialize in one of the following areas:


study the abundance, distribution and quality of ground water.

Environmental geologists

work to solve problems with pollution, waste disposal and urban development and hazards such as flooding and erosion.


study the effects of Earth processes and investigate the nature, origin and development of present landforms and their relationship to underlying structures.


interpret past global changes and predict future changes from past records.


investigate volcanoes and volcanic phenomena.


study the location and force of earthquakes and trace the behavior of earthquake waves to interpret the structure of the Earth.

Petroleum geologists

are involved in exploration and production of oil and natural gas.

Economic geologists

explore for and develop geologic materials that have profitable uses.

Engineering geologists

investigate geologic factors that affect engineering structures such as bridges, buildings, airports and dams.


investigate the nature and distribution of chemical elements in rocks and minerals.


determine the origin and genesis of rocks by analyzing the textures and chemistry of minerals and rocks.


study the formation, composition and properties of minerals.


decipher the Earth's interior and magnetic, electric and gravitational fields.


study plate tectonics, specifically the hows and whys of plate motions and deformations.


determine the age of certain rocks by calculating the rates of decay of certain radioactive elements and thus help reconstruct the geologic history of the Earth.

Planetary geologists

study the moon and other planets to understand the evolution of the solar system.

Structural geologists

study deformation, fracturing and folding that has occurred in the Earth's crust.


investigate the time and space relationships of layered rocks and their fossil and mineral content.


study sedimentary rocks and the processes of sediment formation, transportation and deposition.


study fossils to understand past life forms and their changes through time and to reconstruct past environments. They study how life forms have evolved, developed and become extinct. The sub discipline of biostratigraphy is of particular use in the petroleum industry.

Marine geologists

investigate the oceans and continental shelves.


study the physical properties and movement of glaciers and ice sheets.

Students who wish to pursue a professional career in geology, are advised and encouraged to choose the Honours Program. The Majors Program in Earth and Ocean Science would be a suitable choice for students planning to continue in other professional schools such as Education, Commerce/Business, or Law. It is possible to qualify for registration as a 'Professional Geoscientist' with the Majors Degree, but only if appropriate electives are selected.

Jobs in Geological Sciences

The employment outlook in geology - as in any profession - varies with the economic climate of the country. The long-range outlook is good at this time. Dwindling energy, mineral and water resources, increasing environmental concerns, global issues such as rising sea levels, and hazard assessment present new challenges to geoscientists. Career opportunities are increasing in environmental science and hydrogeology with the growing need to maintain Earth's natural environments and meet society's demands for Earth materials. Money magazine (Feb., 1992) ranked "geologist" second overall out of 100 best occupations and in the top nine for "jobs that satisfy."

Most geologists are employed by industries related to oil and gas, mining and minerals and water resources. Others become university academics or teach at the secondary school level. Did you know that British Columbia has a shortage of secondary school earth science teachers?

Many geologists are self-employed as geological consultants or work with consulting firms. Most consulting geologists have had extensive professional experience in industry, teaching, or research.

Resource-based Industries

Some combination of: Geology + Sciences, Surveying, Economics, Finance, Management + Computing
Possible degrees: B.Sc., B.Sc.(Hons.), M.Sc., Ph.D.

Engineering Industries

Some combination of: Geology + Physics/Math, Surveying, Computing + some Physical Geography, Management
Possible degrees: B.Sc., B.Sc.(Hons.) + Dip.Sci. or M.Sc. Engineering Geology or B.Eng.

Environmental science field

Some combination of: Geology + Physical Geography + Biology/Ecology + Chemistry + Computing + Statistics
Possible degrees: B.Sc., B.Sc.(Hons.), M.Sc./Ph.D.

Marine science field

Some combination of: Geology + Biology + Chemistry + Math/Physics + Computing
Possible degrees: B.Sc., B.Sc.(Hons.), M.Sc. in Geology/Marine Science etc

Are you concerned about the environment? Are you concerned about global environmental and climate change? Do you like to know why and how things work? Do you like to analyze things? Are science and nature among your favorite subjects? Have you ever wondered why the Earth appears as it does? Do you enjoy the outdoors? Are you interested in travel? If you answer "yes" to most of these questions, geology could offer a good career for you. The most important prerequisites are interest and thorough academic training.

Career Services

Do you know where your future lies after you graduate from UBC? The question may seem a little premature, but it isn't. The nature of 'employment' and 'careers' is changing rapidly and the successful graduate will be one who learns how to capitalize on the knowledge and skills gained in a degree program in order to secure the type of employment she or he seeks. A little-known branch of UBC's Student Services is called Career Services. Housed in Brock Hall, Career Services staff can help you prepare for a career after you graduate from UBC. They offer workshops on searching for jobs and on the skills needed to get interviews and make them successful. Students also get access to web-based career resources and on-campus visits by potential employers. Unfortunately, many students make their first contact with Career Services in their last term of fourth year and that's much too late. Don't be one of them!

Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences,
2020 - 2207 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4
Major Geology: Tel: 604-822-3667 James Scoates; Tel: 604-328-0426 Stuart Sutherland
Honors Geology: Tel: 778-384-7074 Ken Hickey
Advising and Program Approval - Advising is not required at the undergraduate level but is available on request.