dynamics of the solid-earth have been explored, leading to insights of scientific, aesthetic, and economic value. Links with the defense community have been forged, organized around a common interest in the nature of the Earth and a concern over ensuring adequate supplies of strategic materials.
If advances in the solid-earth sciences are to continue to occur at the rate demanded by societal needs, the profession must have access to adequate resources. The first and most important such resource is a sufficient number of well-qualified professionals engaged in studying the Earth and applying their knowledge about it. According to a recent survey, there are approximately 80,000 individuals who can be classified as solid-earth scientists in the United States. Over half of these people are employed by the petroleum and mining and minerals industries. Government employs about 12,000 geoscientists, and about 10,000 work in academia.
The supply of and demand for earth scientists have historically been out of phase, and that remains true today. Because of the dramatic decline in petroleum prices in the mid-1980s, following aggressive hiring by the industry during the 1970s, petroleum-related hiring decreased by about a third. The mining industry was also in a long period of depressed commodity prices, which led to the loss of jobs by thousands of mineral resource earth scientists. Decline in employment in the extractive industries was concurrent with increased demand in other areas. Environmental legislation in the early 1980s dealing with waste disposal sites was enacted and enforced. Employment projections indicate that opportunities in the earth sciences are growing again, with emphasis on issues of groundwater, the siting of waste repositories, and environmental cleanups. Because of this shift, the retirement of current earth scientists, and the eventual recovery of the oil and gas industry, the demand for solid-earth scientists can be expected to continue to grow.
Undergraduate enrollments in the earth sciences have tracked the ups and downs of employment in the extractive sector. The prospects for a recovery of enrollments are cloudy despite the changing emphasis of the field toward environmental issues. In general, the college-age population has been declining in the United States, and declining numbers of freshmen express an interest in science in general and the earth sciences in particular. Also, women and minorities are greatly underrepresented in the earth sciences, and these are the groups that will make up nearly 70 percent of new entrants into the work force in the 1990s. Growth in the enrollment of women, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, has been increasing in the past decade.
Much of the reason for lack of interest in the earth sciences among college freshmen is that relatively few of them are taught earth sciences in elementary and secondary schools. The resulting paucity of teaching opportunities has contributed to a corresponding shortage of qualified earth science teachers. If more precollege students are to be exposed to the opportunities and rewards of earth sciences, these subjects must be taught more widely, by a larger number of better-prepared teachers, and in a more exciting manner.
At the undergraduate level, attention must focus on introductory