Two Physical Science Careers

Volcanology is only one of many physical sciences.

The science field contains a wide variety of interesting and challenging disciplines, including the physical sciences. While physical science encompasses many areas, two may come to mind more frequently than others. Meteorologists study weather patterns, watch storm fronts and make forecasts to help people plan their day. Volcanologists monitor active and dormant volcanoes for signs of eruption which could cause serious damage to towns situated near them.

What Does a Volcanologist Do?

Hawaii is one of five observatories in the United States for volcanologists.

A volcanologist studies volcanoes, using chemistry and physics to determine the possibility of an eruption. While an active volcano can become a very destructive force, it can take centuries for it to erupt. For the most part, United States volcanologists observe active volcanoes from five permanent observatories around the country. These observatories include: Hawaiian, Cascades, Alaska, Long Valley and Yellowstone.

These observatories show the scientists changes in Earth movement from seismometers, gas emissions and changes, and even minute changes in water tables in the region. Using the data recorded, volcanologists can roughly determine the potential of an eruption within the next decade into the future. Volcanologists also watch an eruption in progress to better understand what can trigger the eruption, what happens to the mountain during such an event and what dangers may occur during the event.

Volcanology Education

Volcanologists study geology, chemistry and physics in college.

The study of volcanoes actually covers several fields and educational disciplines. The study of active volcanoes, considered physical volcanologists, study the volcano’s physical structure and processes. Geophysicists have several specializations within the field, including seismology — in other words the study of earthquakes — gravity and magnetics. Geodesy studies the changes made to the Earth, such as shape and ground deformation due to volcanic activity. Also, geochemists study the Earth’s makeup, including volcanic gasses and rocks created from volcanic activity.

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Most volcanologists have a physical science background in chemistry, physics and geology. It’s recommended for students to study computer science and math in high school if they wish to pursue a career in this field. A graduate degree — either an MS or PhD in physics, calculus, geology, seismology, or a combination of these — gives a student a solid background to enter this career.

What Does a Meteorologist Do?

Meteorologists study cloud formation and atmospheric pressure to determine the weather.

Most people know a meteorologist by his better-known name of weatherman. A meteorologist compares temperature readings, wind speeds and direction, atmospheric pressure, and precipitation patterns to determine what the local weather might be in any given area. Meteorologists may also use data to determine how the climate and weather patterns might change over time, and how this could affect people’s daily lives. These scientists carry out basic research to help figure out how hurricanes form, why tornadoes occur where they do, and why the ozone layer has thinned over certain areas of the atmosphere.

Meteorology Education

Students take physics, chemistry, engineering and mathematics to prepare for meteorology studies.

For those wanting to become a meteorologist, high school courses that should be considered include physics and chemistry, math and computer sciences, plus any Earth science courses that the school offers. At the college and university level, students need to enroll in an undergraduate degree program within the environmental science or atmospheric fields.

Many colleges offer specialized programs such as research or agricultural meteorology, but students need to take courses in physics, chemistry, engineering and mathematics for a start. Once a student receives his bachelor’s degree, he can move on to graduate courses in atmospheric science. Experts recommend that students achieve either a master’s degree or doctorate in atmospheric science to become a meteorologist.

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