• Helena Kudiabor
  • Oct 05 2022

The field of geophysics is all about the physical characteristics of the earth, and the other planets occupying our solar system. It’s an exciting field, with a range of opportunities for specialism.


What is geophysics?

Geophysicists study the physical environment of the earth, as well as the other planets. They apply the principles of physics, maths, engineering and geology to learn about the structure and functions of the earth. This is done using a number of complex measurements, such as seismic waves, natural electric currents, gravity and magnetic fields.

What is the history of geophysics?

Many geophysical phenomena have been investigated since the early years. Around 240 BC, Eratosthenes of Cyrene worked out that the Earth was round, and managed to measure the circumference of the Earth with great precision. He also developed the systems of latitude and longitude, providing the basic understanding of the earth for geophysicists. 

In 132 AD, the inventor Zhang Heng invented the seismoscope (an instrument that responds to ground noises from earthquakes and explosions). It worked by dropping a bronze ball from the mouth of a dragon into a mouth of toads, whichever one of the eight toads had the ball determined the direction of the earthquake. 

Following the emergence of geophysics as a discipline in the 19th century, a number of revolutionary discoveries were made. The first seismographs (instruments measuring and recording details of earthquakes) were developed in the 1880s, which led to the discovery of the Earth’s core in 1936. Plate tectonic theory also came about as a result of geophysics. One of the biggest drivers of geophysics was the demand for oil. The use of seismic waves to develop models of the earth’s surface allows scientists to identify where oil is, thus indicating the best drilling sites.

What is the future of geophysics?

There is an increased focus on sustainability within the industry. Geophysicists aim to use technologies to predict earthquakes, reducing the vulnerability of communities to natural disasters. They are also keen to use geophysical tools to find and monitor water resources, and assess soil properties, enabling communities to become self-sufficient. The increased focus on renewable energy means there are careers emerging in extracting renewable energy and locating clean water sources.

What careers are there within geophysics?

Geophysicists study the physical properties of the Earth, allowing scientists to understand more about its structure. Geophysicists tend to specialise in one of three areas: solid earth, fluid earth and upper atmosphere. For example, seismologists study seismic readings to try and predict earthquakes, while volcanologists measure under-earth temperatures and other readings to predict volcanic eruptions. You can find out more about a geophysicist career here