Careers in Geoscience: Environment

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Careers in Geoscience: Environment

Environmental Geoscientists are employed by organisations in many different sectors of academia, industry, government, mining, development, oil and gas and others. They are specialist geologists dealing in the measurement, assessment and review of environmental impacts on natural processes or by human activities such as construction projects, urban or industrial development, mining and resource developments and the maintenance, remediation and monitoring of these activities. Some examples of the disciplines which an environmental geoscientist may study are; groundwater flow (rate and direction), groundwater protection, groundwater dependent ecosystems, hydrology, soil science, ecology, contaminated land, discharge control and maintenance, rehabilitation and remediation design, execution and monitoring. Their work can be part office and part field and laboratory based, although extensive fieldwork is necessary to collect and test sites.


Environmental Geoscientists may examine the distribution of fluid borne chemical entities in rocks and interaction with minerals but, more importantly the movement of these chemicals (ions and/or compounds) into the soil, air and water systems. They also study movement of water through sediments and permeable fractured rock systems, outflows from dams and construction sites and cross over into ecology and biological studies such as the effects on biodiversity and ecology of changing water conditions and chemistry. The impact of man’s development on groundwater dependent ecosytems (GDEs) is a prime example where hydrogeology/hydrology morphs into ecology.

Typical duties include:

  • Sourcing and tracking chemical entities in the environment whether in soils, gases or water (surface and groundwater)
  • Plan scientific studies, site investigations and field locations and collect samples
  • Planning, supervision of drilling programs, sampling and recording
  • Analysing samples, either in the field or in the laboratory
  • 2D and 3D modelling of a wide variety of data from various sources
  • Understanding of licensing, permitting and waste management policy and regulations
  • Develop and design of remediation and rehabilitation plans to prevent toxic contamination or to clean up toxic waste sites
  • Contribute to natural resource use and environmental management policies
  • Stakeholder engagement and reporting to clients, litigants, government, local councils and other stakeholders.
Skills Required

The job carries a high level of responsibility, as the employee must ensure the accuracy and integrity of a wide variety of information from different sources and ability to communicate effectively on risk and hazards. Consequently, formal and on-the-job training is an important feature of the job.

Typical skills required are:

  • Knowledge of a range of sciences (both geo and other) and their applications
  • Problem solving skills and analytical skills
  • Ability to work within a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers
  • Good organisational skills
  • Computer literacy and ability to analyse numerical and graphical data
  • Good written and verbal communication skills
  • Ability to think and work in 2D and 3D
  • Geochemistry, geophysics, geological mapping, sedimentary and hard rock (fracture) recognition.




University unit suggestions

Core subjects
analytical chemistry
mineral and petrological identification
environmental geoscience
Specialty subjects
soil science


Statutory Requirements

Registration in Australia as a Registered Environmental Geoscientist through AIG (RPGeo) for Environmental Geoscience, Contaminated Lands is recommended in that field.

Full members of the AIG can become registered as a Registered Professional Geoscientist (RPGeo).  In several states, government organisations may require either Full membership of the AIG or registration as RPGeo to report to various authorities.  Further information on these requirements should be found at the relevant state authority.

Registration as RPGeo is recommended for geoscientists practising in these areas. For further information go to



Job Opportunities

Environmental geologists are typically employed by major mining (metals, industrial minerals and coal), major petroleum companies and major construction companies, large contracting organisations (civil works),  consulting organisations, state and local government (environmental geoscience, contaminated lands).  In addition some employment opportunities occur in a range of specialist contracting/consulting companies, CSIRO and academia.





Residential/Lifestyle Options

  • More likely based in capital city or regional centre with work areas either locally or remote
  • Can be campaign based (operate at development site for duration of work program such as drill program)
  • Often involves up to 70% field time in early years reducing to around 20% experienced and consulting environmental geoscientists

Pros & Cons

  • Opportunities for travel, domestic and international
  • Varied work programs
  • Multi skilling and multi-disciplinary teamwork required (important)


  • Absence from home for long periods of time is common (particularly early career)
  • Long hours, shift and weekend work are also regularly required, irregular schedules


Do you work a regular length day/week?

Environmental geoscientists often are based in major cities or regional centres and travel to their work sites when field work is required. When they are working in the city office they would work a regular day/week. They may carry out field work for short periods of time although larger projects such as base line data collection or drilling projects may take much longer periods and may involve longer work days and/or shift work.

What other knowledge outside of my degree will I need to improve my employment prospects as an Environmental Geoscientist?

A good knowledge of the environmental regulations in the jurisdiction where you work would be an advantage.  Mostly this will be learned on the job especially working in a government authority.

Are there opportunities to work overseas?

Yes, environmental considerations are becoming more important all around the world as population growth and urban expansion impact on the natural environment.  Most countries  are improving their ecosystem, water management and waste disposal practices with an increasing requirement for input from environmental geoscientists. A factor which may influence where environmental geoscientists work is any language skills that person may have (French is widely used in Canada and Africa, Spanish and Portuguese in South America).

What is the difference between a Hydrogeologist and an Environmental Geoscientist?

Hydrogeologists and Environmental Geoscientists often work closely together with the Hydrogeologist working principally on the quality and quantity and flow patterns of the water resources.  Environmental Geoscientists principally look at the impact and changes in chemistry in the water systems (during developments) crossing over to the effects this may have on biodiversity and ecology.  As such they need a broader knowledge of the biology, botany and ecology of the environments in which they are working.  Multi-disciplinary consultancy firms often employ both Environmental Geoscientists, Hydrogeologists and Engineering Geologists.

Should I  do science at school?

Yes, a solid grounding of mathematics and science (in particular chemistry and physics) is important for all areas of geoscience practice. If Geology/Earth Science is available at school level it is highly recommended.

Do I need to be physically fit?

Working as a geoscientist can be physically demanding.  Field work generally involves various physical activities particularly in remote areas. Whether it be walking to get to a site, mapping, collecting and carrying samples, working around drill site or working from 4WD vehicles or helicopters a good level of fitness is generally required.

As a geoscientist do you work with new technology?

Geoscience is often at the cutting edge of new technology.  Many of the current gaming platforms were developed from 3D computing technology developed within the mining industry. New technologies are constantly being used and developed within the geoscience professions to enhance our knowledge of the earth. Modelling techniques, visualisation and the use of mobile technology are widely used.


The following are video and You Tube links that are relevant to this career path.

RPGeo Forum Hydrogeology

Yet to be up on You Tube

A panel of experienced hydrogeologists talk about their career experiences, how they became hydrogeologists, considerations for further studies, opportunities in this career path,  accreditation and other issues impacting on hydrogeologists and water management.

AIG Career Session 2; Niche Geoscience Services – Hydrogeology, Engineering Geology, Geochemistry, Geophysics (63 mins)

A panel of experienced geoscientists in hydrogeology, engineering geology, geochemistry, geophysics and the consulting sector talk about what they do each day, how they broke into the industry, transferring between industry sectors, demand for geologists in their sector and interesting aspects of their work.

Fact Sheets

See also sheets for related career paths