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This place used to be under water? Are you serious!?

September 2, 2007

This post is my own post about why I study geology, which is part of the 1st edition of the geology blog carnival called The Accretionary Wedge. I am the host for this inaugural edition…the link above will be your gateway to getting to know some geology blogs and the bloggers behind them.

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Why I Study Geology

Geology is the study of the whole Earth, its composition and structure, its performance as a dynamic organism, and, above all, its history

E. Spieker, 1965

Prior to becoming a geology major during my undergraduate years, I was an engineering major (that lasted one semester) and then a cultural anthropology major (that lasted about a year). Engineering was too rigid…and ethnology didn’t quite float my boat either. As interesting and important these fields are, they simply didn’t suit me. I took a geology class to fulfill a science requirement and that’s all it took. I guess it’s one of those things that when I look back now, I was interested in Earth science as a kid, but it never seemed like something to “be when you grow up”.

Before I started focusing on geology as an undergrad, I regarded the science of geology as the study of what the ancient Earth looked like. That is, if I were to be transported back X million years and stand in, say Central Park in New York City…what would it look like? To me, the word ‘geology’ was synonymous with Earth surface conditions at particular locations at particular times. Was it under water? Was it on a mountain range? Was it tropical or arid? Was it under a kilometer of ice? As I learned the fundamentals about the data and evidence that is the basis for reconstructing the ancient Earth (i.e., rocks!), I became even more enthralled. This isn’t just (pure) fantasy…we actually have evidence.

Of course, geology is much, much more than just the surface of the Earth. In fact, the Earth’s crust is only 1% of its total volume (think egg shell). And the surface of that crust is a minuscule percentage of that! But, in my head I still regard geology as the study of what is happening and what has happened on the surface of the Earth. That mindset led me to the discipline of sedimentary geology (or, when I’m feeling pedantic, the discipline of paleomorphodynamics). I’ll save the full essay about why sed geology is the coolest for a future post.

Another aspect of geology that got me (and many others) hooked at an early point in my studies was the field. The field is where we get to observe products of geologic processes firsthand. The field is where the spatial and temporal complexity of geology is laid out in its glory. The field is where we realize and reflect on the vastness of geologic time. The field is where we get away from the office and drink beer with our friends! I grew up in the eastern United States, but our field camp was on the Colorado Plateau. That was over 10 years ago now (wow)…but I still remember the experience vividly. At that point, I was just entering the stage where I decided that being a complete geo-nerd was kind of fun. A few years later, it became more than just fun…it was rewarding.

Now, it is very difficult to imagine doing anything else. To this day, when I drive through or fly over the middle of the United States, I still say to myself: “This used to be under water? Are you serious?!”

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