What are the main differences between geologists and geophysicists?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ ualberta.ca/~unsworth/geophysicist_defn.pdf ;-) $\endgroup$
    – s-m-e
    Apr 17 '14 at 17:25
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ A geophysicist friend once told me that geophysicists are geologists that know math. :) $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Sep 3 '14 at 6:29
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting question, even more interesting answers. I am a meteorologist and oceanographer, and have considered myself a geophysicist in general. $\endgroup$ Sep 12 '14 at 19:02

First of all you have to think about that both geology and geophysics are huge fields and even people that think of themselves as a geologist or geophysicist can have vastly different research topics.

If a geologist and a geophysicist are interested in the same topic, e.g. the lithosphere, they will have a lot in common. In this example I think the main differences would be methodology. While a geophysicist would rely on the analysis of seismic waves, numerical simulations and modelling, a geologists would work more with lithospheric scale cross sections, and geologic data that he or she can gather on the surface.

In summary I would say: The fields have much overlap, many differences, and when approaching a question more calculations and modelling will be done in geophysics and more field work and lab work (petrology, age dating, stratigraphic age, ...) will be done in geology.


It's not a healthy distinction, but in petroleum geoscience one can characterize the distinction around the sort of data people look at. Geophysicists are into seismic, sonic logs, gravity and magnetics data, electromagnetic (resistivity) data,... and anything to do with computers. Geologists meanwhile are into core, outcrop, gamma-ray and density logs, stratigraphy, tectonic reconstructions,... and anything to do with coloured pencils. Of course, they're both working towards the same thing: a model of the earth and its history.

Your question also made me think of a couple of Twitter conversations, both started by Chris Rowan at Kent State:

  • I'd be interested in your answers to q I'm exploring in my lecture this morning: what makes geophysics distinct from geology? Read thread.

  • Why I sometimes get antsy when people call me a geophysicist. Ultimately, I favour reality over fancy computer plots. Read thread.

The first one of these prompted me to draw this:

The difference between geology and geophysics

I make no claims to the accuracy or seriousness of this facile comparison.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Beards should be given more weight in this comparison. $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Sep 13 '14 at 6:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael Good point... But can you really tell geols and geophs apart with them? Are they not one of the most convincing examples of convergent evolution? $\endgroup$
    – kwinkunks
    Sep 13 '14 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ By the way, do you have that drawing in higher resolution? It's pretty good :) $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Nov 29 '14 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael... Here you go :) $\endgroup$
    – kwinkunks
    Dec 3 '14 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ Sort of see the same patterns in synoptic/operational meteorologists versus dynamical/research meteorologists. It's a great world when both sides of the coin can contribute in a useful way :-) $\endgroup$ Oct 31 '17 at 5:33

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