The Future of the Geosciences: Change Like We Have Never Seen Before

William L. Fisher

University of Texas at Austin

Change is always about a way of life, but in the past decade or so, it has come to dominate the geologic profession and the industries and institutions with which we associate.  Most geologists work in production of commodities, particularly energy and mineral materials, and in providing services, especially in the environmental industry.  And many in government and the academy are directly tied to these industries and so nearly all are subject to market forces.  Government staffs and university faculties grew substantially in the last half of the Century, but for a decade have stabilized and in some cases declined.  The environmental industry grew at an aggressive pace in the 80's, but now has leveled out and may be shrinking.  Energy and mineral prices have always been cyclic but in recent years, prices, especially for oil and natural gas, rocketed and crashed in a half decade in the early 1980's, stabilized somewhat at moderate levels for a decade, but now run in the subteens.  Mergers and mega-mergers abound.  Cost cutting synergy has become the euphemism of layoffs.

In recent years vast areas of the globe have been opened to international activity.  Energy and mineral raw materials have become the largest component in the international trade.  Industries that were always global are now thoroughly so and competition for market share becomes paramount.

And another area of dramatic, almost breathtaking change, is technology, especially information and digital computation technologies, so much so that with increased efficiencies, energy and mineral raw materials are now won at historically low costs.

These changes seem likely to be with us for a while.  They pose both opportunity and challenge to the industries and institutions that utilize geologists and other earth scientists, to the institutions that train them, and, indeed to the the future and well being of the profession itself.

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