Viva Rock Vegas

By Valerie Tu

Imagine Las Vegas without natural resources, a city without cars, bicycles, houses, hotels, cell phones and clean water.  Geologists play an important role in the exploration and mining of vital natural resources that affect our everyday lives. In addition, geologists in Las Vegas and the surrounding areas conduct assessments of natural hazards and land to build on, make observations of water cycles of Lake Mead, and mine for gypsum to name a few.  The extent of common knowledge on how geologists perform their duties and what special skill sets are required to work in Las Vegas is fragmented at best.

Since the inception of Las Vegas, geologists have been involved in many aspects of the city’s growth and prosperity. One of the major roles geologists have played in Nevada is mining, which has played a key factor impacting the state’s economy.  Also important to the city of Las Vegas is the building of the Hoover Dam, which required the expertise of geologists and engineering geologists to consult where and how to build the dam.  Currently, controversy over Yucca mountain has spurred geologists, some from our own university, to get involved and participate in surveys and in-depth studies of the region. Additionally, thanks to geologists, we have up-to-date seismology.  Nevada is the state second highest in earthquakes (in the lower 48 states). However, the majority of earthquakes are very low in magnitude on the Richter scale, so low in fact that you typically cannot feel them.  Without knowledgeable geologists Las Vegas would not flourish as it does in this arid desert region.

So what exactly is a geologist? A geologist is formally defined as “a scientist who studies the solid and liquid matter that constitutes the Earth as well as the processes and history that has shaped it (1).”  However, this definition hardly explains what exactly a geologist does and how they perform their duties.  Geologists utilize and incorporate a variety of techniques stemming from chemistry, biology, physics, and engineering to ascertain insight into the processes, materials, history and complexities of the Earth and other planetary bodies.  Take for instance petroleum geologists who, on a daily basis, incorporate geophysics, engineering, sedimentary stratigraphy, and paleontology to decipher the complexities of locating and extracting oil and natural gas through processes such as horizontal fracturing.  Or perhaps an astrogeologist who uses remote sensing to spectrally indentify varying mineralogy, terrain, and processes on other planets in addition to having geochemical knowledge that enables them to interpret spectral data.  Geochemists differ from chemists only in that their concentration focuses on how various solutions interact with rocks and minerals to gain knowledge of their behavior in natural environments.  Geologists’ roles and techniques vary from place to place, but consistently all geologists perform calculations, prepare reports and use computers on a regular basis to complete their jobs.

Therefore, because of the vital efforts of geologists, it becomes essential to formulate an appropriate definition of who a geologist is and what a geologist does with implications for how they go about performing their job duties. An all encompassing definition of a geologist might be defined in this way:  a scientist who incorporates a variety of sciences, engineering, field and laboratory analyses to uncover the history, processes, and unknown aspects of planetary bodies to provide natural resources and geological hazard assessments of the Earth to an expanding population.

If becoming a geologist intrigues you some questions you may want to consider asking yourself include the following:

Questions to ask yourself when considering becoming a geologist:

  • Do you like working outdoors?
  • Are you patient and methodical?
  • Are you analytical and inquisitive?
  • Has learning about earth processes and its history been a passion of yours?

Although geologists and their duties have now been generally defined, in order to address the geologic concerns specific to Las Vegas, special skill sets delineate what is required to be a geologist in Las Vegas, some of which are listed below:

What is required to be a geologist in Las Vegas:

  • A bachelor’s of science in geology and in some cases an advance degree (master’s and/or PhD) in Geology with a specialization, from an accredited school
  • Field experience/work experience either through a job, internship or voluntary work
  • In some cases certifications or state licenses as a ‘professional geologist’  (however currently this is not being enforced)
  • Geological knowledge of Las Vegas and the surrounding area

Geologists in Las Vegas often acquire careers in hydrogeology, engineering geology, mining, exploration and working for consultation firms. Whether you have an interest in becoming a geologist or just demonstrate an interest in geology, Las Vegas is an ideal place for geologic pursuits. Very often we become easily distracted from the noteworthy geology surrounding us and every now and again it becomes essential for us to reflect on how our city is able to thrive in the desert and how geologists have a hand in that success.


1.  Geoscience Australia, Our Role, December 16, 2010,, Accessed: May 12, 2011


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