What is Geophysical Prospecting?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Geophysical prospecting is the process of investigating geological formations with the use of various observational tools to collect data about their composition, size, and nature. Geologists use specialized equipment to look into the earth and learn more about petroleum deposits, rock, soils, and other objects that may be present. Mining and petroleum companies rely on this process to identify sites of interest and evaluate them to determine if they are worth further exploration.

A geologist might use geophysical prospecting to predict the presence of diamonds in a mine.
A geologist might use geophysical prospecting to predict the presence of diamonds in a mine.

In geophysical prospecting, people can use a variety of sensors above and below the ground for data collection. This can include flying in planes over the site to snap aerial photos, taking samples to collect data, using sonar to map out underground formations, and measuring the electrical conductivity and other physical characteristics of the soil. The goal is to collect as much information as possible to help people determine whether the site contains useful materials, so they do not have to invest in development of the site only to find that it is not useful.

Geologists focus on searches for specific materials of interest at a site, although they will document incidental findings along the way. Specialists working for a diamond company, for example, want to find diamonds or indicator minerals commonly associated with diamonds. The site may have other materials of use, and geologists could determine if the site should be sold to another company for resource exploitation in the event that it does not contain minerals of interest to their employers.

In geophysical prospecting, the Earth's magnetic field and other characteristics provide important data for researchers. Geologists carefully log and map this data to generate an overview of the conditions at a site. This information is important for executives making decisions about whether to proceed with site development and other activities. It can also be useful for scientific research, as geophysical prospecting can provide information about geologic history, deposits of scientific interest, and other matters.

People working in this field usually have at least a bachelor's degree along with experience in the industry. Many colleges and universities offer geology coursework along with specific courses in fields like petroleum engineering and mining to prepare people for careers in these industries. It is possible to use internships for work experience while in school. This can be valuable for new graduates seeking employment, as companies want people with training and experience to perform geophysical prospecting work. People without experience will need to work as low-ranking team members while they acquire skills.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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