Geologist - minerals/mining
Minerals/mining geologists help to find and remove minerals and other resources from beneath the Earth's surface. They also advise on the safety and suitability of mine sites. Once mining has begun, they monitor the work and continue to advise on safety, for example, avoiding floods and rockfalls.
Minerals/mining geologists are involved in finding natural resources such as coal, iron, lead, zinc and gypsum, and in removing these from beneath the Earth's surface. They understand the geological processes that have formed and developed these resources and, having studied their distribution, are able to advise on locations for new mines.
The process of locating a mine usually begins with desk-based research. Minerals/mining geologists study information from geological maps, surveys and databases, geochemical data and satellite images. They use the data to search for clues that point to the presence of a particular natural resource.
Locating a mine can also involve fieldwork. For example, minerals/mining geologists collect sediment samples, analysing them back in the laboratory. This can reveal the presence of mineral grains.
Some minerals/mining geologists estimate the amount of resource available at the site. Their advice helps to decide whether the mine will make sense economically, meaning that there is enough raw material to make the cost of mining worthwhile.
In advising on the suitability and safety of the mine location, minerals/mining geologists need to take into account conditions such as rock strength and the potential for rockfalls, landslips, mudslides and earthquakes.
They must ensure that the water table (water below ground) will not be polluted or reduced, as this will affect the water supply to surrounding human settlements.
Once the location has been decided, minerals/mining geologists can use computers to produce three-dimensional models of the mine. These help in designing the mine and assessing the mine's environmental impact.
Minerals/mining geologists then control drilling and surface exploration programmes to assess the initial stages of the mining.
Once mining has begun, geologists review information as it arrives from the mine - core samples collected by drilling, for example. Geologists check the quality of the mineral and make decisions about unexpected problems such as rock faults and groundwater.
Minerals/mining geologists also play an important role in environmental management. For example, they advise on the safety of abandoned mines, suggesting solutions such as dams and clay barriers to prevent polluted water leaking out of the mine.
Some very experienced minerals geologists go on to work in the financial sector, advising banks and other lenders on proposed mining projects.
Minerals/mining geologists also work as researchers, teachers and lecturers, journalists and advisers in mining tourism.
Personal Qualities and Skills
- An investigative mind and problem-solving skills.
- A thorough and methodical approach to research.
- The ability to explain your findings and give advice clearly and concisely, including in written reports.
- Good teamwork skills to work alongside other geologists and engineers.
- Willingness to work outside in all types of weather, and to do some work underground.
- Computer skills are very useful, for example, when creating three-dimensional models of mines. Knowledge of environmental issues is increasingly important.
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of minerals / mining geologists
Employment opportunities in the UK are mainly with mineral companies that produce cement, salt, sand, potash, gypsum and china clays. Minerals/mining geologists can also work for consultancies, giving advice to mining companies.
Opportunities for minerals/mining engineers occur in mining operations in rural areas throughout the UK.
There are opportunities to work in many other parts of the world, for example, in Australia, South America, the Middle East, India and southern Africa, either for UK-based companies or for overseas employers.
Minerals/mining geologists can become self-employed consultants.
Entry routes and training
Usual entry is with an honours degree in geology, applied geology, exploration geology, petroleum geology, geoscience or Earth science.
Many entrants also have a relevant postgraduate qualification. A small number of specialist MSc courses are available.
There are several types of first (undergraduate) degree course. BSc (Hons) degrees usually take three years to complete (four in Scotland). MGeol/MSci degrees are four-year courses, allowing for a wider range of taught subjects and research than in the BSc.
Some universities offer degree courses with a foundation year. This is an extra year for students who don't have the specified science A levels for entry.
A small number of universities offer integrated science degrees (ISciences), aiming to give graduates interdisciplinary skills and knowledge through a problem-based approach.
The Geological Society accredits a number of first degree courses. Accreditation demonstrates that the university department's teaching is of a high quality. Having an accredited degree reduces the amount of experience you need before you can achieve Chartered Geologist and Chartered Scientist status through the Society (see 'Progression' below). You can find a list of accredited courses on The Geological Society's website. The Society also accredits some postgraduate courses.