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Seismology is the scientific study of the movement of waves through the earth and is typically associated with the study of earthquakes. Seismologists are responsible for analyzing and interpreting seismological data, which includes studying earthquakes, plate tectonics, and Earth imaging. Seismological research is important not only in quantifying hazards such as earthquakes, but in finding essential resources and piecing together our planet’s history.
At a glanceImagine you are sitting at a boardroom table with clients discussing the large complicated-looking map spread out in front of you. You are a seismologist and this map is a computer-generated image of a section of land 25 metres below Earth?s surface. These clients are a group of engineers working on a large oil project in the northern part of the province. They have come to you for information on seismic readings and geological subsurface maps of the area. They need this information before they can start designing and building the pipelines, wells, and refineries proposed for the area. As a seismologist, you have been studying seismic activity in the area for years, ever since oil and gas companies started exploring in this region. Until then, most seismological data for the area came from earthquakes, which were both infrequent and distant. But when you heard about the oil and gas exploration, this became a golden opportunity to gather new data. You and a team of technicians went to the area to install seismographs, instruments that collect and record vibrations in the earth, and lines of geophones, which are small seismometers. As oil and gas companies moved in, they started generating their own seismic waves from underground blasting, drilling, and driving heavy trucks and machinery through the area. Your seismographs captured this data, which you analyzed and turned into geological subsurface maps based on different vibration frequencies. The maps will give these engineers a better picture of what the earth looks like far below the surface, including potential oil or natural gas deposits.
Job dutiesDuties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a seismologist:
- Analyze and interpret daily seismic records to identify and distinguish different seismic sources such as earthquakes and mine and quarry blasts.
- Use data to evaluate seismic hazards and provide results to engineering companies.
- Analyze seismic data in relation to geological composition and structure, and construct models of the subsurface.
- Process data using computer algorithms.
- Produce maps of shaking intensity after an earthquake.
- Develop methodologies to improve upon conventional interpretation approaches, including writing new computer algorithms to manipulate data.
- Communicate with the media and public to educate people about earthquakes and earthquake preparedness.
- Inform critical infrastructure, emergency response groups and the media when large earthquakes have occurred.
- Write scientific reports and publish study findings.
Work environmentSeismologists work in a variety of locations, including: In the office:
- Analyzing data collected in the field using existing software or by developing new algorithms
- Compiling survey information and seismic data
- Creating maps and extrapolating information from seismic data
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, colleagues, government departments, and stakeholders
- Preparing presentations and writing scientific research papers
- Carrying out seismology surveys
- Testing equipment
- Setting up and testing instruments
Where to workThere are a number of places seismologists can find employment. They include:
- Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
- Universities, colleges, and research institutes
- Environmental and engineering consulting firms
- Geophysical firms, for example oil and gas exploration
- Resource firms, including oil and gas and mining
- Independent data-processing companies
- Self-employed consultant
Education & requirementsIf you are a high school student considering a career as a seismologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
- Computer Science