Jump to main page content
Purdue signature

College of Science

Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

Careers in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

Atmospheric Science (Meteorology). Meteorology is the study of atmospheric phenomena. This includes the physics, chemistry and dynamics of the atmosphere as well as many of the interactions between the atmosphere, solid earth and oceans.

The undergraduate meteorology curriculum includes not only core courses in atmospheric science but also complementary exposure to mathematics, physics, chemistry and computer science. Thus, graduates are prepared to enter the work force in specialties such as weather forecasting and air pollution as well as to further their education by pursuing graduate degrees.

With the atmospheric science major, students may also choose to focus on employment with the National Weather Service or other government agencies, broadcasting (media), a business-related career or environmental monitoring, or they may pursue graduate school/research.

Geology. Geology is the study of the internal structure, materials, chemical/physical processes and physical/biological history of the earth. Students of geology encounter science in the broadest sense because geology involves the application of principles of physics, mathematics, biology and chemistry as well as many aspects of engineering and environmental sciences.

Because the scope of geology is broad, specialized branches have evolved. For example, geomorphologists investigate the nature and origin of land forms by studying the causes and effects of dynamic earth processes; structural geologists are concerned with the arrangement of rock masses in the earth’s crust and the types of forces that have affected them; and stratigraphers investigate the thickness, geometry and distribution of layered rocks to understand the chronology of geologic events.

Geologists also may specialize as economic geologists who explore the earth for various kinds of mineral deposits and supervise their development. Others may become ground-water geologists concerned with the distribution, movement and chemical quality of our precious underground water supply. Many have become petroleum geologists who explore for and develop deposits of coal, oil, natural gas and other earth resource materials. Another area that appeals to many geology majors is environmental geology, in which geological skills are required to help predict, avoid or mitigate problems connected with pollution, urban development and geologic hazards such as flooding and excessive erosion.

Students completing the B.S. curriculum in geology would be prepared to undertake graduate studies for advanced degrees or enter a variety of careers related to some of the specialty areas.

Paleontology and Paleoecology. Paleontology is the study of fossils, with the aim of discerning the nature, occurrence and evolution of life throughout geologic time. Paleoecology deals with the relationship between fossil organisms and their inferred environments. Coursework in this area emphasizes methods by which data derived from fossils can be interpreted and applied to geologic and biologic problems.

Geochemistry, Mineralogy and Petrology. This program uses concepts from disciplines such as chemistry, physics and mathematics to help clarify geological phenomena and problems. In general, the problems are directly related to the basic materials comprising the earth, namely, the origin and occurrence of minerals, rocks and ore deposits. Mineralogy, petrology and geochemistry are so closely related that a combined treatment is necessary.

Engineering Geology. Engineering geology involves the use of geological data, techniques and principles to interpret the geologic factors affecting the planning, design and safety of engineering projects. The undergraduate curriculum should be a blend of engineering and geology courses designed to teach engineering principles and foster understanding of engineering problems.

Engineering geology work includes studies related to site location and investigation; environmental assessment; design recommendations; construction, monitoring and maintenance of engineering structures such as dams, tunnels, bridges, buildings, mines, cut slopes in rocks, quarries, etc.; and analysis of the geology of urban areas.

Hydrogeology. The hydrogeologist is called on to assess an area for groundwater development potential for domestic, industrial or agricultural supply. His or her skills may be required to determine the origin and fate of naturally occurring or man-made chemicals in ground water.

Hydrogeology is also intimately related to knowledge of earth surface processes (geomorphology), environmental studies, engineering geology and exploration geophysics. A background in these related specialties is desirable.

Structural Geology. Structural geology is the study of how earth deforms. To understand rock deformation, we might examine rocks at any scale from microscopic to continental. We study the forces that cause folds, faults and even whole mountain ranges. We investigate rocks that have flowed quietly for millions of years, and others that have ruptured catastrophically in earthquakes. These types of processes are responsible for much of the large-scale configuration of the Earth's surface.

Structural geology is one of the keys to understanding the geologic history of the Earth and hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis and landslides. It is also an essential tool in the search for petroleum and mineral resources.

Geophysics. Geophysics applies principles of physics to the study of the Earth. Studies of natural gravity, magnetic and electrical fields, seismic wave propagation and heat flow are used to deduce the nature of the Earth's interior — the structure, composition, physical properties and dynamic processes that cause earthquakes and move continents. Similar studies are used to explore for petroleum and mineral deposits and to investigate the shallow portions of the earth’s crust to determine conditions that influence the location of engineering structures.

Geophysics includes theoretical and laboratory studies as well as field investigations that may be located in interesting and remote areas of the world. Often geophysicists use sophisticated instrumentation, computer processing of data, and interpretation and integration of information from several related disciplines.

Environmental Geosciences. Using a background in geology and/or atmospheric science as their foundation, environmental scientists can use an interdisciplinary approach to study ground-water contamination, landfill management, landslide risk, urban planning, climate change and many other contemporary environmental issues. These scientists must develop quantitative problem-solving skills acquired in an educational framework that couples their geological and/or atmospheric science background with basic principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics and engineering to meet the challenges facing the environment.

Environmental employment areas include science, engineering and consulting, particularly on decisions regarding environmental public policy. There are also many opportunities for graduate education in these areas.

Earth/Space Science Teaching. This program provides a broad earth science core as well as a strong background in math, chemistry and physics along with required courses in education to prepare students to teach in junior high/middle/secondary schools (grades 5-12) and meet the requirements set by the Universitywide Teacher Education Council.

Marine Science. Students interested in pursuing a career in marine sciences are encouraged to major in earth or atmospheric sciences or another basic science such as biology. A program can be arranged that will qualify students to study marine science in graduate school.

The most recent Web information can be found at www.purdue.edu/eas.