Environmental Scientist Kaipūtaiao Ao Tūroa

Environmental scientists study human effects on the environment such as climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity. They also advise on how to avoid or reduce these harmful effects.

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Environmental scientists may do some or all of the following:

  • study plants and animals in their environment
  • assess sources of soil, water and air pollution, and develop ways to control these
  • use computer modelling techniques to predict future events in the ecosystem
  • study how to alter soils using fertilisers to suit different plants
  • develop efficient irrigation, drainage and waste disposal methods
  • plan and run field studies and experiments
  • prepare reports on the environmental impacts of activities such as mining, forestry and agriculture
  • provide the science for planners to make decisions on how to adapt to climate change and rising sea levels
  • report results of studies in science journals and at conferences
  • liaise with the community to build relationships and increase participation in decision making 
  • study and develop environmental policies
  • provide technical advice to clients or local government authorities
  • prepare applications for resource consent on behalf of clients, in compliance with the Resource Management Act.

Physical Requirements

Environmental scientists need to be reasonably fit and healthy to make field trips or site visits.

Useful Experience

Useful experience for environmental scientists includes:

  • surveying work
  • environmental engineering work
  • environmental monitoring or measurement
  • working as a volunteer in ecology or conservation work
  • laboratory work.

Personal Qualities

Environmental scientists need to be:

  • accurate
  • able to make good judgements
  • good at problem solving
  • good at planning and organising
  • good at communicating
  • creative, so they can develop new ideas.

Skills

Environmental scientists need to have knowledge of:

  • the environment, including excellent knowledge of at least one area of environmental science such as water, soil or air quality
  • ecosystems and the interaction between species
  • natural history
  • the Resource Management Act, and understanding of the effects of commercial development on the environment
  • the Environmental Effects Act 2012
  • practical skills for performing experiments and operating scientific equipment
  • research skills, and ability to analyse research results
  • maths and computer programming skills.

Conditions

Environmental scientists:

  • usually work regular business hours, but may be required to work weekends and evenings to meet deadlines
  • usually work in offices, but may work outdoors when collecting samples or visiting sites
  • may travel nationally and overseas to work on projects.

Environmental Scientists can earn around $58K-$150K per year.

Chances of getting a job as a Environmental Scientist are good due to a shortage of people interested in this type of work.

Pay for environmental scientists varies depending on skills, experience and they type of work they do.

  • Graduate environmental scientists usually start on about $58,000 to $91,000 a year. 
  • Senior environmental scientists with a Masters and five years' experience can earn up to $108,000. 
  • Environmental scientists with a postdoctoral degree who work at research institutes can earn from $85,000 to $150,000. 

Sources: Environment Canterbury Regional Council, 2021; and University of Waikato, 2021. 

Environmental scientists in research roles can progress into senior research scientist, team leader or manager roles. 

Environmental scientists may also specialise in an area such as:

Air Pollution Analyst
Air pollution analysts study factors producing air pollution and recommend ways to prevent and control these.
Ecologist
Ecologists study animals and plants in their natural habitats, and how they interact with those environments.
Land Degradation Analyst
Land degradation analysts study factors degrading the quality of soils and recommend ways to prevent and control these.
Water Quality Analyst
Water quality analysts study factors affecting water quality and recommend ways to prevent and control these.

Years Of Training

3-9 years of training required.

To become an environmental scientist you usually need to have a Master's degree in one of the following areas, depending on your specialisation:

  • environmental science or a related area such as chemistry or engineering
  • ecology or a related area such as botany or zoology
  • soil science or a related discipline such as earth science.

A PhD is usually required for research-based positions.

Environmental Scientist