Green Gabbro

Are Geophysicists Geologists?

Or, less generally, am I a geologist?

I have a B.S. in geophysics and an M.S. in earth and planetary science with a funky geophysics/geohydrology emphasis. I took some intro physical geology and earth history as a sophomore, but I have never taken formal courses in mineralogy, petrology, structural geology, sedimentology, or stratigraphy. However, I’ve picked up the basics of these fields from older kids on the street corner and make use of them in my work.

Please assume while you are answering the poll that my work involves using my knowledge of the Earth’s history, processes, and constituent materials for the benefit of humanity, and not just creating ugly abstract art. My work does not, however, require that I identify any minerals trickier than feldspar, or touch a Brunton with a ten-foot pole – to which I say phew, because I’m not very good at either of those things.


I’ll have a post up tomorrow with my answer.

Comments

  1. #1 Silver Fox
    March 24, 2009

    Interesting question. It probably depends on your take on things, not necessarily ours. I know at least some geophysicists who would claim they are no-way geologists, and others who would say they are.

  2. #2 Rew
    March 24, 2009

    I usually describe you as a geohydrologist to impress my friends.

  3. #3 Warrinj
    March 24, 2009

    A handful of decades ago I received degrees in Physics and in “Earth Science.” That led my employers (after the US Army) to concatenate me into a “Geophysicist.” Though most of my education and work was ‘Geo’ and not ‘phys’ I never let myself self-identify as a real live geologist – dirty boots, Brunton, hammer, beer, and all. So, sorry, I voted ‘no.’

  4. #4 Kim
    March 24, 2009

    I think that’s part of the reason why so many organizations use the word “geoscientist” instead of “geologist.” I’ve argued that an undergrad geology major could strip out pretty much everything except mineralogy, petrology, structure, and strat/sed, but I also know plenty of people who do geoscience research or who work in industry (or who do research in industry) who never took those classes. Lots of people learn what they need outside of class, and if they don’t need it… well, they don’t need it.

    I’m often torn over definitions, because I think the more expansive definitions of earth science are generally better for pushing the boundaries of knowledge, but I’ve also seen people who don’t work on rocks describe them as “boring.” (Which is a fine opinion to have for one’s own work, but generally not appropriate to share with intro geology students. Especially if one is the professor.)

  5. #5 BrianR
    March 24, 2009

    Like Kim mentioned, I try and use ‘geoscientist’ when discussing topics both geologists and geophysicists would care about (e.g., plate tectonics) … the term ‘earth scientist’ to me is even more general (would include atmospheric scientists, for example).

    In the oil industry, sometimes you hear ‘geoscience’ for both … or, more annoyingly, ‘G&G’.

    As for you … I voted yes. But I know plenty of people who call themselves a geophysicist that I would definitely not call a geologist.

  6. #6 Ron Schott
    March 24, 2009

    I’ll put it concisely: If you study the Earth you qualify as a geologist. I always liked the way the Chief described – we’re in the business of “understanding how planets work”. In that sense, I would include even those who study planetary bodies besides our current home planet, but I’ve always taken geology to have a rather broad meaning.

  7. #7 BrianR
    March 24, 2009

    Ron says: “If you study the Earth you qualify as a geologist.”

    That is pretty broad.

    I’m hesitant to be so inclusive … people who study the physics and dynamics of clouds, for example, would say they study the Earth, but would almost certainly not consider themselves geologists.

    That said, it’s easy to get out of control and bin every single sub-sub-field of study as it’s own discipline.

  8. #8 Eamon
    March 24, 2009

    You are not a geologist, you are a geophysicist.

    As you have ‘physicist’ at the end of your academic speciality you are soo far above the ‘logists’.

    Eamon the Physicist.

    (But – if you think you can still hack the fieldwork, then you’re both!)

  9. #9 Eric Lund
    March 24, 2009

    I consider geology to be a subset of geophysics. Contra Ron, I would say that anybody who studies the earth is a geophysicist. That includes, as Brian says, the atmospheric scientists, as well as oceanographers, hydrologists like Maria, and those who study the near-Earth space environment. I am in the last category, and I go to AGU meetings.

    Maria uses a fair amount of geology in her work, but she is not what I would call a geologist. I would reserve that term for people who primarily study rocks, volcanoes, earthquakes, and the like.

  10. #10 JJ LaTourelle
    March 25, 2009

    The answer is no. The same question can be posed as follows: are molecular biologist biologists? No, they have different methods, different fields of interest, answer different questions, use different conceptual apparatus, different exemplars of good science. Geophysicist never appeal to uniformitarianism or Playfair’s laws in explanations of their work. They are physicists who work on the large scale earth processes.

    “If you study the Earth you qualify as a geologist” fails on many grounds, some have been pointed out. Water witches study the earth, geographers study the earth, survivalists study the earth and none of them are geologists in the technical sense. In order to be a geologist you must employ the same methods and have the same metaphysical commitments as the community of geologists at large. This last is plan when you take the example of creation science “geology,” which is most certainly not geology even though they study the earth.

  11. #11 JJ LaTourelle
    March 25, 2009

    And PS. Eric is also wrong, geologists are not geophysicists in any normal language, historical, or rational sense: (as you can see in that you say meteorologists are geophysicists, which is a practical absurdity.) First off, historical geologists, the best kind of geology in my book, are not geophysicists. Second, physical geologists, people who study volcanoes and earthquakes, don’t need to appeal to the things geophysicists appeal to when formulating explanations. Fault motion, for the physical geologist, is described in relative terms (the hanging wall block falls with respect to the foot wall block) where as the geophysicist is interested in nothing of the sort -rather he is interested in why there is local extensional forces and might attribute them to the specific gravity of an area-. When the geophysicist is explaining fault motion, or better yet volcanic activity, she appeals to specific and final causes -usually gravity or the corner flow of convection along a subducting slab, etc.-. She is explaining the functioning of gravity or convection that lead to the current condition of the world which was probably described by the geologist.
    Again, saying a geologist is a geophysicist, or the other way around, would be like saying a bird watcher is a really an avian paleontologist.

    But this is all just nomenclature.

  12. #12 Silver Fox
    March 25, 2009

    When the geophysicist is explaining fault motion, or better yet volcanic activity, she appeals to specific and final causes -usually gravity or the corner flow of convection along a subducting slab, etc.-. She is explaining the functioning of gravity or convection that lead to the current condition of the world which was probably described by the geologist.

    That description of a geophysicist would mean that Tanya Atwater is a geophysicist. Check her webpage, and find she is a geoscience educator, geophysicist, and geologist. I think it’s a complicated question!

    I know I’m not a geophysicist because I can’t type the word without checking the spelling, and I can type geologist without looking.

  13. #13 Nick
    April 20, 2009

    I agree with JJ LaTourelle, and point out that its even worse than that: with pure and applied geophysicists being quite different from one another. Something about tectonics – a primarily geophysical yet kinematic theory – really confused the issue. The solution is now in the phrase “geodynamics”!

    But if you can’t identify minerals or use a compass to make a geologic map, I’d argue that you aren’t a geologist. Oddly enough, this lumps the prospector and Caltech petrologists in the same company, but keeps Tanya Atwater and Clark Burchfiel on opposite sides of the geo- divide!

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