Geochemists study the type and distribution of chemicals that make up the Earth, for example, in rocks, soil, sediments, and water. They also study the chemical processes that take place on and below the Earth’s surface.
In field work, geochemists take samples for analysis in the laboratory, where they use analytical chemistry to find out what chemicals are contained in the samples. Geochemists can use different techniques and equipment to perform such analyzes.
They can load multiple samples at once into automated analysis equipment. This saves them time by analyzing hundreds of samples at once, and they can sometimes schedule tests overnight. Also more complex types of analysis, for example, for which a gas chromatography must be used to separate compounds from a sample.
Geochemists use computers to visualize and analyze the results. They can use computers to model and simulate the generation and movement of chemicals, such as hydrocarbons.
They also conduct geochemical studies to obtain information on the origin, age, and nature of rocks and other structures.
They also use their results to map the location, concentration, and movement of chemicals over large areas of land. This information helps them find the likely location of natural resources such as oil, coal or uranium, and use this information in mining or to schedule drilling, for example.
In oil and gas companies, geochemists track the formation and movement of oil and natural gas. They investigate how much gas or oil is present and the exact location can be extracted.
Geochemists also have a role in monitoring and protecting the environment. They identify the presence of chemical contamination, for example, in the soil or in groundwater.
They investigate landfills and disused industrial areas, for example, to see if pollution has seeped into rocks, soil or water.
The role of geochemists is important for agriculture. For example, they are responsible for assessing the lime content of the soil. Lime is a very cheap and abundant source of alkalinity, which farmers can use to reduce the acidity of the soil.
They identify chemicals in the soil that can harm crops. Pollutants react with minerals in the soil and can harm plants that need certain nutrients for their growth.
While they can spend time alone engaged in activities such as fieldwork and geochemical data analysis, they must also do a lot of teamwork. They must collaborate with geologists, mineral or mining geologists, petroleum engineers, and site managers.
They carry out desk and laboratory work to carry out their research and data analysis tasks. They keep up to date with advances in geochemistry by reading scientific journals and specialized websites, and attend industry conferences and congresses.