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Seismic interpreters use a variety of technical, computational and scientific modelling techniques to produce geophysical and geological data that can be used to analyse the hydrocarbon content of rock structures.

The number of opportunities within the profession and the resulting competition for vacancies is affected by fluctuations in the world oil market.

What does a seismic interpreter do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Seismic interpreters assess the amount of oil and gas contained within rock structures, the ease with which it can be extracted and the likelihood of encountering any hazards or problems in the process.

Those working outside of the oil and gas industry will use the data for research purposes or environmental assessments.

Key tasks include:

  • producing and interpreting computer-generated 2D, 3D and 4D models
  • using sound waves to produce geological structure maps
  • gathering data about the earth’s surface from acoustic readings, surveys and satellites
  • producing maps and cross sections of the earth’s structure
  • recording and analysing numerical and scientific data
  • using computer modelling applications to replicate seismic responses and hydrocarbon production
  • predicting likely changes and movements in rock structures
  • collecting information about rock volume and quality that can be used to measure the likely yield of oil or gas
  • writing scientific papers and reports
  • advising, liaising and consulting with colleagues, clients, consultants, researchers, external bodies and other professionals

Typical employers of seismic interpreters

  • Major oil extraction, exploration and production companies
  • Public sector organisations
  • British Geological Survey
  • Educational establishments
  • Research and development organisations
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

Seismic interpretation is a specialist area of employment with only a small number of jobs available each year. Opportunities are advertised online, by careers services, specialist recruitment agencies, in national newspapers, in relevant publications such as Geoscientist and the monthly magazine sent out by the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain (PESGB).

The recruitment process is likely to involve a technical interview. Read our article on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.

Qualifications and training required

You can only become a seismic interpreter if you have a degree in a relevant subject such as geophysics, geology, geotechnology, maths and physical or applied sciences.

A relevant postgraduate qualification in geosciences, petroleum geology or other related areas is beneficial, and may be a requirement for some opportunities. A list of accredited courses is available on The Geological Society’s website. Read our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore your different options.

Pre-entry work experience can be difficult to obtain, but is helpful for entry into the profession.

Key skills for seismic interpreters

  • Numerical skills
  • IT skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Organisational skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Teamworking skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication skills

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