“Dr. Frackingstein, when can I help with excavating the dinosaur bones?”
“Never. They are my precious. Leave us alone,” Dr. Frackingrock screams, laughing heartily into the night.
Geologists aren’t usually that crazy, but they do love them some rocks. How do you know if you are that cuckoo for rocks?
You might be the next rock star if:
Your family album consists of fossil photos of homo habilis.
You drag your friends into the wilderness to check out a “killer sedimentary rock formation.”
There are pictures of “cleavage” all over your walls. The metamorphic type.
You wear a Rolling Stones t-shirt and don’t know that they are a band.
Geologists try to figure out how this big ball (our planet) formed and why it changes. To be specific, geologists study the composition and structure of rocks, plant and animal fossils, Earth materials like oil, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and floods, as well as geological history and climate change. Oftentimes, they use high-tech instruments and scientific theory in an attempt to solve our planet’s mysteries. Geology consists of many diverse areas. (Ask a geologist who has ever licked a rock – and there are more of them than you’d think - to distinguish it from a fossil. A fossil is porous and will stick to your tongue.)
Some of the many geology subfields include:
Isotope geology- The study of rock and planetary isotopic composition to piece together how they were formed. No fair looking up the IKEA manual online.
Marine geology- The study of the ocean’s floor. We warn you - Nemo will not be down there. You won’t find him.
Hydrogeology- The study of groundwater. These geologists want to know where it originates, where it is going and how it moves.
Paleontology- The study of fossils. Not like your grandma. They’re more like dinosaur hunters. Your grandma, on the other hand, is not yet extinct.
Pedology- The study of soil and its formation. Like mud’n with your truck? Perhaps you’d like to know how nature’s off-road course was made.
Volcanology- The study of volcanoes, because they are magmastic.
The field of geology you decide to go into depends on the types of questions you want answered. Want to figure out how to clean up the environment? Many geologists design and monitor waste disposal sites. They also reclaim contaminated land and help allocate areas for hazardous waste materials and landfills.
Some geologists strive to find natural resources such as natural gas, mineral, oil and underground water. Underground water is a BIG deal. Areas of the country like Colorado added one million people to its population in the 90’s. Water supplies in Colorado are limited. Most of their water comes from surface water, but that doesn’t cut it. Agriculture areas in Colorado need groundwater. Roughly, 90% of groundwater withdrawals are for farms. When groundwater dries up because of drought or excessive demands, agriculture doesn’t have enough water. Which is where geologists come in to save the day.
“Geologists are the type of scientists where they are part artist and part scientist,” said Larry Nation, a spokesman for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Unlike other types of scientific fields like zoology that one can easily access, geologists need to figure out what is going on beneath the earth, what happened millions of years ago (the dinosaurs apparently didn’t leave their diaries anywhere we could find them), what will happen a million years from now and what happens on other planets. Geologists are totally all up in the Earth’s business. Without geologists, we would not understand what is going on with climate change. Plenty of people are more than a little confused about it as is.
According to The Geological Society of America, decades of scientific research have shown a climate change that is caused by both anthropogenic and natural causes. Geologists collect climate change data by studying glacier retreat (“Run away! Run away!”) and melting Artic sea ice. They also look at ice cores, lake sediments, cave deposits, corals and tree rings. Global warming is largely attributed to human activities, such as greenhouse-gas emissions. If current trends continue, The Geological Society of America projects an increase of temperature that will impact humans and other species. We’re talking more than just a quicker suntan. It’s the kind of news that makes you want to ride your bike to the grocery store rather than spew more pollution into the universe. No, the Earth is not going to blow up. At least not from climate change. However, geologists and other scientists are sending out warnings that change must occur for future generations of man and animal species.
To be a geologist, students focus their efforts on math and science during high school. Students typically earn an undergraduate degree in Earth Sciences, Geology and Geophysics. It won’t be all fieldwork. It is important to get a good background in advanced math, chemistry, physics, data processing and computer modeling.
Your job outlook is better with an advanced degree. Most government, private industry and academic employers want to hire a geologist with a master’s degree. You’ll be able to focus on a particular specialization like geochemistry, seismology, economic geology or mineralogy in graduate school. Once out of graduate school, you can set your sights on a job at a university, mining company, petroleum company, Federal Highway department, science book publisher, legal firm, or the Environmental Protection Agency, to name a few.
There are numerous avenues to take with a Geology master’s degree, but they generally lead to one place, which is right back into the Earth. Let us know when you get to China.