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UK plc Needs More Geophysicists

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 December 2013 20:49
Published on Monday, 24 July 2006 00:00
bgalogo.gifThe British Geophysical Association has today released its review of Geophysics Education in the UK. The Report recommends that the UK should increase the number of geophysics graduates in the coming decades to address major environmental and energy problems confronting society.

Climate change study, radioactive waste disposal, nuclear test surveillance, environmental monitoring and control, energy supply, global water resources, archaeological heritage, earthquake and volcanic hazards, all need the expertise of the geophysicist.  Yet there are too few young people coming into the science with the necessary physics and mathematics knowledge and skills to provide the numbers required for the nation, according to a new report endorsed by Lord Browne, Chief Executive of BP.  

The British Geophysical Association [Note 1] (a joint association of the Geological Society of London [Note 2] and the Royal Astronomical Society [Note 3]) have undertaken a review of Geophysics Education in the UK.

In the Foreword of the Report, Lord Browne of Madingley FRS (Chief Executive, BP plc) writes:  

"The continued supply of energy is fundamental to the progress of mankind.  …At no time in our history has the question of energy security been more important. The solutions to this question demand innovative technological solutions…yet scientists and engineers with [the necessary] skills are becoming scarcer each year.

"This joint review of geophysics education by the Geological Society of London and the Royal Astronomical Society is both timely and comprehensive. It makes clear recommendations that, if implemented, will help ensure a healthy supply of geophysics graduates able to satisfy the short, medium and long-term requirements of industry. These are vitally important issues for BP, for the energy industry in general, and for the nation."

Full text

The Executive Summary and Recommendations are available below.  Full text is available here

Report launch

The launch of this Report took place on Monday 24 July at the Institute of Physics,
76 Portland Place, London.  

Contacts for comment

Notes for editors

1.       British Geophysical Association is a Joint Association of The Geological Society of London and the Royal Astronomical Society. The aims of the British Geophysical Association are to promote the subject of geophysics, and particularly to strengthen the relationship between geology and geophysics in the UK, by holding meetings and courses, encouraging the publication of the results of research, and by such other means as are deemed appropriate by the parent Societies.

2.       The Geological Society of London is a learned and professional body, of over 9000 Earth scientists with a remit to investigate, interpret, discuss, inform and advise on the nature and processes of the Earth, their practical importance to humanity, and, in the interests of the public, to promote professional excellence. Registered Charity No. 210161.

3.       Royal Astronomical Society is the UK's leading professional body for astronomy & astrophysics, geophysics, solar and solar-terrestrial physics, and planetary sciences. The Society promotes the study of astronomy and geophysics including solar and solar-terrestrial physics, planetary sciences and the `new astronomies', such as astro-particle physics and astrobiology.

Executive summary & recommendations

Geophysics is fundamental to the needs of society.  It is essential in exploring for energy, water, and mineral resources; monitoring environmental impact and change; assessing natural and man-made hazards; in subsurface investigations for engineering and archaeology; and in forensic science.

The growing demands of industry and government service are facing a severe shortage of trained UK graduates with geophysics skills.  For example, by 2030, despite efforts to develop alternative sources, nearly two thirds of the world’s energy will still be coming from oil and gas requiring many geophysicists to explore for the 50% increase in supply required by that time. However the population in the industry is aging while the numbers of students entering university to read geophysical science are falling and courses are being discontinued.  If current rates of decline continue there will be no geophysics undergraduates by 2030. The problem is global. 

This review has been undertaken to:

  • Assess the present state of geophysics education in the UK      
  • Identify the problems that need to be addressed       
  • Make recommendations that will ensure a healthy crop of geophysics graduates able to satisfy the short-term national requirement, and train the next generation in the longer term. 
Widespread national concern is being expressed over declining numbers of students doing school and university courses in the physical sciences. Geophysics can help to counteract this by virtue of being able to attract young people in large numbers because of its stimulating mix of Earth science, computing, physics and discovery.


  • There is a need to increase the awareness of geophysics in schools by including more geophysical topics in the A-Level physics curriculum.    
  • The BGA should have a  close association with the Institute of Physics (IoP) and so have access to the facilities, organizational structure and visibility that the IoP provides at all levels (schools, higher education, industry and government).    
  • Our parent learned societies should work with industry to increase the promotion of geophysics as a career in schools and universities.    
  • There is an urgent need to develop geophysics courses for physics teachers through activities like those of the Earth Science Education Unit of the University of Keele, the Earth Sciences Teachers Association, the Teacher Scientist Network at the Norwich Research Park, and the Seismology in Schools projects.      
  • Web sites like Schools Network and the Science Council’s Careers from Science should highlight information on geophysics and the careers it offers.    
  • A Geophysics Promotion Officer should be appointed, for two years at least, to facilitate these new activities.