Geology is an earth science concerned with the composition of the solid Earth and the processes by which the Earth’s rocks change over time. In practise, the field primarily concentrates on the Earth’s outer layer, called the crust.
Geology describes the structure of the Earth and the processes that have shaped that structure. It also provides tools to determine the relative and absolute ages of rocks found in a given location, and also to describe the histories and composition of those rocks. By combining these tools, geologists are able to chronicle the geological history of the Earth as a whole, and also to demonstrate the age of the Earth. Geology provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and the Earth’s past climates.
Geologists use a wide variety of methods to understand the Earth’s structure and evolution, including field work, rock description, geophysical techniques, chemical analysis, physical experiments, and numerical modelling. In practical terms, geology is important for mineral and hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation, evaluating water resources, understanding natural hazards and warning communities about them, the remediation of environmental problems, and providing insights into the past. Geology also plays a role in geotechnical engineering.
There are several sub-disciplines of geology:
Economic geology – deals with the identification and location of valuable minerals used by society. Economic minerals are those which can be extracted profitably. Economic geologists help locate and manage the Earth’s natural resources, such as petroleum and coal, and metals such as gold, silver, iron, copper, zinc, aluminium, and titanium.
Mining geology – deals with the extraction of mineral resources from the Earth. Some resources of considerable economic interest include gemstones such as diamonds, and many minerals such as marble, phosphates, slate, clay, pumice, quartz, and silica, as well as elements such as sulphur, chlorine, magnesium, calcium, and helium.
Petroleum geology – deals with the locations of the Earth’s subsurface where extractable hydrocarbons can be found, especially petroleum and natural gas. Many of these reservoirs are found in sedimentary basins, and so geologists study the formation of these basins, as well as their sedimentary and tectonic evolution.
Engineering geology – deals with the application of the geologic principles to engineering practice as there will be geologic factors affecting the location, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of engineering plants. In the field of civil engineering, geological principles and analyses are used in order to ascertain the mechanical principles of the material on which structures are built. This allows tunnels to be built without collapsing, bridges and skyscrapers to be built with sturdy foundations, and buildings to be built that will not subside in soft clays or over sinkholes.
Geology and geologic principles can be applied to various environmental problems such as stream restoration, the restoration of brownfields, and the understanding of the interaction between natural habitat and the geologic environment. Groundwater hydrology, or hydrogeology, is used to locate groundwater in aquifer basins, which can often provide a ready supply of uncontaminated water and is especially important in Australia’s inland arid regions.
Geologists and geophysicists study natural hazards in order to ensure compliance with building codes and to implement warning systems that are used to prevent loss of property and life. National disasters where geologists can have a role include:
- Landslides, mudslides, sinkholes, and debris flows
- River channel migration and avulsion
Geologists usually study geology as an academic discipline, although backgrounds in physics, chemistry, biology, meteorology, engineering, and materials sciences are also very useful. Field work is an important component of geology, supplemented by laboratory in many of its sub-disciplines. Geologists can obtain data through stratigraphy, boreholes, core samples, and ice cores.
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Geologists are often required to testify in cases related to mining, civil engineering, and transport infrastructure. These experts can give their professional opinion whether negligence contributed to a particular incident.
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