What is Geology?

Jessica Ellis

Geology is a broad scientific discipline that studies Earth through the history and processes of rocks and minerals. Although studying rocks for a living may sound unbearable to some, this fascinating science branches into many areas of the physical planet, including the formation and life of volcanoes, rivers, mountain ranges, and canyons. Geologists can find work in a wide range of industries and scientific fields, and in effect serve as Earth's historians and as interpreters between the planet and its inhabitants.

Geologists may study the formation of volcanoes.
Geologists may study the formation of volcanoes.

Since ancient times, people have wondered how the earth came to be. Many human myths deal with the creation of the planet, from the Genesis book of the Bible to the flood myths of Norse cultures. Only when early scientists began to study the rock layers of the earth did the physical truths of the planet's history begin to reveal themselves. During the 17th and 18th century, geology underwent a boom in interest, with competing theories of how the Earth evolves leading to heated and occasionally violent confrontations between passionate scientists.

Academic geologists study the impact that ongoing geological processes might have on human civilization.
Academic geologists study the impact that ongoing geological processes might have on human civilization.

Modern geology has become focused on refining the techniques and strategies used to understand the earth. With the birth of carbon dating, the age of rocks can be determined with far greater accuracy, finally giving more realistic ideas as to the age of the planet and the formation of its modern geological structure. Geological studies have also turned to the exploration of Earth as a part of the cosmic system as well, in hopes that insight into how other planets have formed can lead to new discoveries about Earth.

Geology studies the Earth through its rocks and minerals.
Geology studies the Earth through its rocks and minerals.

Yet not all studies of geology lead to theoretical or educational careers. Geology is a practical science of great benefit to humans, not just in discovering our history but in determining our future as well. Geologists work as consultants to mining and oil industries, able to survey land for possible use and outline safety dangers of the terrain. Some geologists devote their lives to the study of natural formations such as volcanoes and rivers, in the hopes of creating advanced warning systems in case of natural disasters.

Geologists can work in concert with construction corporations. By identifying the type of bedrock at building sites, vital information about the weight capacity and structural safety of new buildings can be obtained. In the planning of large or expanding cities, careful geological study can prevent thousands of deaths in the event of earthquakes or natural disasters.

Many geologists do serve as teachers or field researchers. In addition to bringing bright young minds into the field, these scientists can also contribute to the continued study of the planet. Although geology has given many clues as to the history of the planet, a considerable amount remains unknown about continental drift, sea floor expansion, and how the Earth ended up as it is today. With millions of years of history unobserved by human science, geology does not look to have all the answers any time soon, and may have centuries more of continual discovery.

Geologists often work in the field studying natural rock and mineral formations.
Geologists often work in the field studying natural rock and mineral formations.

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Discussion Comments


Geology is such a broad science. This must be why geologists usually specialize in a field. Hydrologists, gemologists, stratigraphers, and paleontologists are all different types of geologists. Even environmental scientists have their academic foundations in geology.


Modern geology actually consists of four spheres that are co-dependent on one another. The biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and atmosphere are all connected, so one must understand them all to understand one. Geologists study the effects of weathering and erosion on the lithosphere caused by atmospheric, biologic, and hydrologic events. Many of our most important natural resources are also derived from interactions between living organisms and the inorganic spheres of geology. For example, coal, oil, and limestone are considered sedimentary rock, but they are formed by immense pressure and heat applied to decaying terrestrial and marine organisms.

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