What does a geologist do and why does it matter? 

21/04/2020

Yes, we've all heard the word geology. It is some kind of science for nerds that study stones. Well, if being a nerd refers to studying how the Earth works and why it matters to humanity, then yes, it is a science for stone-staring nerds! And I'm happy to be part of it!

© Kathelijne Bonne

Geology is the science that studies the Earth. In the widest sense possible. 

Let's look at what geologists do and why we need them. There are four species of geologists. 

Natural resources

One abundant species studies the Earth's natural resources. The first resource that springs to mind is petroleum. You're right. Geologists are at the forefront of modern society. Forget driving your car or booking a plane without geologists finding fuel for you. 

Other resources are minerals. Some are gems, sustaining the huge market of vanity, other minerals are needed for industry. Like the little particles in your phone. Whether these actions are healthy for the planet is another discussion. We won't go there now. Groundwater is also a natural resource largely managed by geologists and soil scientists. We need groundwater to drink and without it, plants can't grow. You can imagine what happens to agriculture and food production without proper management of groundwater.  

Long-gone times

The second species of geologists is in research. In universities and laboratories. They are part of a larger community of scientists studying the origin of the planet, the evolution of life. Basically, geologists look at everything that happened in the past, in prehistoric times. Since the birth of the Earth, until today. They look at all the climate changes that already happened and how they transformed Earth and life. They look at the animals, plants and other organisms that existed in long-gone times. They try to find out where the continents and oceans lay in the past. If you've already heard about continental drift, you know the continents weren't always in the same place. 

Why do we need to know what happened in the past?

To understand the planet we live on, and how we can live with it. To predict the future. And to help us see how wonderful and unique life and the Earth are! 

To know what happened before, you have to study rocks. Because the signs of life and climate change are locked up in the rocks. How do you think we know there were once dinosaurs? And when? And how they died? We know those things, thanks to geologists with their hammers and magnifiers, going out in the field and looking at stones in a lab. All we know of the past is by studying rocks and stones. Stone-staring nerds are hence crucial to society. 

Natural disasters

The third type of geologist tries to understand natural hazards. Floods, tsunamis, volcanoes, avalanches, landslides, earthquakes. They are all caused by geological processes or are somehow related to it. Climate modelling also involves geology. Because climate is generated by the Earth's rotation, ocean currents, ocean temperature, mountains, and atmosphere. All these systems are linked. 

Bridges and tunnels

The fourth group is in engineering. Because you really don't want to build large buildings, dikes, tunnels and bridges without consulting a geologist first. Oh, and let's not forget the geologists and earth scientists that are increasingly employed in the industry of sustainable energy sources, studying wind, solar and hydro sources of energy. 

Even though the importance of geology is not so evident in your daily life, it stands central in everything there is to know about Earth. We need knowledge of geology in modern society. And humans are part of Earth, no matter how far removed your life is from nature. 

You can't escape geology!