Environmental Geologist

What is an environmental geologist? Environmental geologists study the structure of the earth with a direct focus of understanding human interactions with the land, particularly to predict or anticipate geological issues and provide information to help minimize impacts on the environment. This occupation is an extension of various scientific disciplines such as physics, chemistry, and biology.

At a Glance

Imagine you are standing on the bank of a shallow, fast-moving creek, watching carefully as one of your colleagues manoeuvres a mechanized auger to extract a core sample from the bank.

You are an environmental geologist working on a project to construct a 300-kilometre underground pipeline that will carry crude oil from northern wells to refineries farther south.

The pipeline must cross several environmentally sensitive areas, such as this creek, and the regulatory process requires that all environmental issues be addressed before construction begins.

In order to do this, the pipeline’s builders have assembled a multidisciplinary team of geologists, biologists, and geographers to study the proposed pipeline route and determine its potential impact on the environment.

The team will also make recommendations on ways to mitigate the pipeline’s impact and avoid serious problems.

As an environmental geologist, you specialize in the rock and soil that this pipeline will be buried under, and the team will rely on your expertise to evaluate geological conditions along the proposed route.

Hundreds of core samples will be taken from sites along the route and analyzed for particular characteristics.

For example, you will take the core sample from the creek bed to your lab and analyze its soil and rock composition. You will look at particle size and porosity, which is a measure of the space taken up by pores in rock and soil.

You will also measure the core samples’ hydraulic conductivity. This very important measurement gives you an idea of how quickly liquid moves through the soil or rock around the pipeline. Should crude oil ever leak from the pipe, you can estimate how far and how quickly the leak will seep before it is contained.

This is particularly important around sensitive areas such as the creek: if the hydraulic conductivity of these samples is too high, barriers must be installed to ensure that a crude oil leak doesn’t seep into the creek.

You may also recommend that barriers and extra fill be used in areas where stability is an issue so the pipeline isn’t cracked by pressure or movement in the earth.

Before the 1.5-metre trench is dug, you will be responsible for making certain geological conditions for the route are mapped and assessed so any environmental concerns can be properly addressed.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental geologist:

  • Conduct geological surveys and field studies
  • Collect and analyze rock and core samples from field studies, drilling, and test programs
  • Collect soil and sediment samples for geochemical analysis
  • Study the effects of erosion, sedimentation, and tectonic deformation
  • Record and interpret geological information from maps, reports, boreholes, aerial photos, satellite imagery, and geochemical surveys
  • Assemble and operate environmental cleaning apparatus, for example, soil vapour extraction systems
  • Assemble and calibrate air analyzing instruments
  • Collect samples of contaminated soils
  • Read scientific literature and research reviews
  • Study and identify natural risks such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and mudslides
  • Prepare geological maps, cross-sectional diagrams, and reports based on fieldwork and laboratory research
  • Supervise geological technicians and other staff

It is important to note that the majority of work in this occupation involves being in remote locations and covers large areas. Transportation may vary by foot, plane, boat, snowmobiles or trucks.

Work Environment

Environmental geologists work in a variety of locations, including:

In the office:

  • Compiling survey information and data
  • Creating maps and cross-sectional diagrams
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, colleagues, government officials, and stakeholders
  • Stay up to date on environmental regulations
  • Submit applications for grant funding
  • Convey research findings in a clear and concise manner to the general public
  • Collaborate with various researchers on interdisciplinary projects
  • Preparing reports

In the field:

  • Carrying out geological surveys
  • Collecting soil, sediment, and rock samples
  • Take aerial photographs and satellite images
  • Recording geophysical measurements using field instruments

In the lab:

  • Studying rock cores, cuttings, and samples
  • Perform statistical analyses on environmental issues
  • Analyzing samples using microscopes, microprobes, and other analytical equipment
  • Supervise laboratory technicians

Where to Work

There are a number of places environmental geologists can find employment. They include:

  • Environmental and engineering/geotechnical consulting firms
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Universities, colleges, and research institutes
  • Resource firms, including oil and gas and mining
  • Geological surveys

Search for jobs on the ECO Canada Job Boad

Education and Skills

If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental geologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • Biology
  • Geography
  • Computer Science

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental geologist is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental geologist, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Geology
  • Geological Engineering
  • Earth and Atmospheric Science
  • Environmental Science

In most provinces, environmental geologists must be registered and licensed with their provincial association as a Professional Geoscientist.

Certification requirements are similar to engineering professions and are often governed by the same body.

Becoming a certified Environmental Professional (EP) may be valuable for a career in Environmental Geology.


Hard/ Technical Skills (skills obtained through formal education and training programs)

  • Geological mapping
  • Impact assessment
  • Operate technological equipment and machinery
  • Report writing
  • Knowledge of environmental legislation and regulations
  • Geographic Information Systems

Soft Skills (personal attributes and characteristics)

  • Oral and written communication
  • Reading comprehension
  • Critical thinking
  • Physical stamina

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch our free webinar “Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry” or  take our Essential Skills courses.

Education and Skills

Christina Turcotte

As a high school student growing up in New Brunswick, Christina Turcotte found that she had an aptitude for math and sciences-particularly biology. So, when she enrolled at the University of New Brunswick, biology was her first choice. "I had no idea that an interest in biology could lead to a career in geology," Christina says. During her second year at university, Christina was urged by a friend to join the university geological society.

Field trips to mines and geological formations across New Brunswick opened her eyes to a new set of possibilities. She switched majors and, within four years, had earned a B.Sc. in geology with a major in environmental geochemistry. Today, Christina is working for a Montreal-based environmental consulting firm. Her job keeps her in the field most of the time, for instance, examining commercial and industrial buildings for PCBs, asbestos, and improperly dumped chemicals or overseeing the removal of underground tanks. "The work I do requires well-developed investigative skills," Christina says. "People skills are also high on the list because you have to be reassuring, firm and fair in dealing with clients. When I return to the office, interpretation skills come into play. You have to combine evidence from sources such as samples, historical research, aerial photographs and interviews to form a complete picture of a particular site."

Your Impact

An environmental geologist studies how geophysical events like erosion or tectonic motion (i.e. Earthquakes) directly affect human populations and the surrounding environment. Alternatively, they may look to discover natural resource reserves and work to prevent the resources from being exploited for commercial purposes.

Work in this field involves conducting studies on sites affected by climate change and analyzing natural disasters such as hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and storms.

Environmental geologists may be consulted on projects for sites for potential infrastructure like roads, dams, bridges, and tunnels, to ensure that it does not pose a risk to wildlife and ecosystems. They also analyze the effects of urban and industrial expansion and are vital to finding successful strategies for minimizing the potential negative effects.

It is important to note that specific projects carried out by environmental geologists may require you to spend extended periods outdoors.

Initially, when you hear of a geologist, you think of someone who collects rocks and studies minerals, oil, and the deeper layers of the earth. But environmental geology is one of the most important branches of science as it impacts every single person, every day.

We sometimes tend to be oblivious to how our every-day actions dictate the sustenance of the earth. As climate change becomes a prevailing topic, a clear and proper understanding of the science behind the earth and the resources we use makes it all the more important to combatting the effects of climate change before the effects become permanent.

Environmental geology is a fundamental important branch of science as it directly impacts every single person on the planet every single day. There is simply no way to avoid the environment around you.

The purpose of an environmental geologist is to create a sustainable environment and help us live with greater environmental awareness.

Occupational Classification

Individuals employed as environmental geologists may be classified in one or more of the following occupational groupings:

NOC Code: 2113- Geoscientists and Oceanographer

NOC Code: 2144- Geological Engineer

NOC Code: 2212- Geological and Mineral Technologists and Technicians

What is a NOC Code?

The National Occupation Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data, describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

The NOC is developed and updated in partnership with Statistics Canada to coincide with the 5- year census cycles. It is based on in-depth occupational research and consultations conducted across Canada, to reflect changes in the Canadian labour market.

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