If you’ve got your sights set on becoming an environmental scientist, we’ve got good news; environmental science jobs are on the up and up.
In the next five years alone, it’s projected that there will be around 14,000 openings for environmental science jobs in Australia – and you’re not short on options. You could become a marine scientist, working to protect our waterways from plastic pollution, or perhaps a botanist, figuring out how to grow lettuce on Mars.
What kind of environmental scientist will you be?
What is a marine scientist?
If you’re passionate about conserving our waterways and marine animals from the effects of human pollution, you might just be a future marine scientist.
Every year, over 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter our waterways and over 180 species of animals are consuming it – from birds, to fish, plankton and whales. But that’s just one of the issues facing our marine ecosystems. Industries like agriculture, mining and fuel regularly contribute to pollutants (like chemical fertilizers or oil) washing into our oceans or nearby streams and lakes.
A day in the life of a scientist who studies water ecosystems
Tom Cresswell, ecotoxicologist and researcher at ANSTO uses nuclear science techniques to track mining pollutants in waterways and analyse the effects of this pollution on animals like yabbies, for example.
“We can do this using radioanalysis on live animals,” says Tom. That’s one of the great things about nuclear science; the yabbies don’t have to be sacrificed for testing and can be analysed multiple times for more accurate data.
What is a climate scientist?
A climate scientist is something of a new concept. People in all kinds of environmental science jobs, like oceanographers, meteorologists, biologists and chemists could all be climate scientists, working together to understand the significant effects of climate change on the different eco-spheres of the planet.
Seven million hectares of deforestation per year are contributing to a global increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But how does that affect our oceans, or impact the wildlife that rely on forests to survive? It’s a climate scientist’s job to understand that.
A day in the life of a climate scientist
Patricia Gadd, instrument scientist at ANSTO, works with sediment cores – deep slices of layered earth that tell us things about the past.
These cross-sections of earth are analysed by ANSTO’s Itrax core scanner. “By studying these sediments, we can infer things like precipitation rates, ecological changes, and types of vegetation, as well as pollution events that might have taken place,” says Patricia.
“If we’re to understand the environment we live in and what we are likely to face in the future, we need to understand how we got here in the first place.”
What is an ecologist?
Ecologists study natural environments and ecosystems to discover how plants, animals and humans interact. They look at everything from the devastating effects of invasive species like cane toads in Queensland to studying how animals are evolving to survive in cities.
A day in the life of an ecologist
Take Rottnest Island, for example. Its entire ecosystem (including its world-famous quokka population) relies on the island’s groundwater to replenish streams for drinking and to nourish plants. ANSTO’s scientists have discovered that the groundwater is becoming increasingly salty as less rain falls and more water evaporates due to rising temperatures.
Increased salinity would bring changes to the microorganisms living in the soil, which will have a snowball effect on the plants and animals that live there.
Plant scientist or botanist
What is a plant scientist?
NASA’s scientists are facing a challenge that’s out of this world; how do we cultivate food and plants on the Moon or Mars? That’s one of the exciting things that a plant scientist could tackle.
Back on Earth, scientists who investigate flora have great options to be employed in the agriculture industry, in conservation careers, or working with technology to produce the next generation of plant-cyborg hybrids.
A day in the life of a plant scientist
Just like the rings that indicate the age of a tree, you can figure out the age of mosses and historic growth conditions using radiocarbon measurements. Scientists at ANSTO have discovered that moss growing in the East Antarctic has experienced side effects from the ozone hole in the atmosphere.
It has introduced higher wind speeds which pick up water from melted snow that would otherwise trickle down to give the moss a drink. Don’t forget, it doesn’t rain in Antarctica, so icy runoff is the mosses only source of water.
What is an atmospheric scientist?
Being an atmospheric scientist is about much more than studying the weather. They can work on any aspect of the atmosphere; finding the best new locations for wind farms to produce green electricity, studying the movement of air masses like hurricanes or predicting the consequences of climate change.
A day in the life of an atmospheric scientist
When radioactive elements like uranium in the earth break down, radon is produced. It’s a colourless, odourless gas that decays quickly, so finding radon in the air is a good indicator the air has recently been in contact with land.
Using the world’s best radon detectors (built and installed by ANSTO), Antarctic researchers are getting a better idea of how air and pollution circulate globally. The verdict? Most of Antarctica’s air pollution comes from countries in the Southern Hemisphere, and air that has been out of contact with land the longest is the cleanest air you can find.
This article was produced in partnership with ANSTO.
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is the Digital Producer for Careers with STEM. Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.