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5 Minute Tute: Geology

What is geology?

Geology is the study of the Earth, the materials of which it is made, the structure of those materials, and the processes acting upon them. It includes the study of organisms that have inhabited our planet. An important part of geology is the study of how Earth’s materials, structures, processes and organisms have changed over time.

Why does any of this matter?

Geology affects many things in our day-to-day life, such as fundamental resources – things like water, minerals, iron, aluminium and fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). The different types of resources are formed in different geological settings. Other minerals such as diamond and gold are also resources that are arguably essential to global trade and economy. The application of geology is also to understand where to find them. There are other direct effects such as earthquakes, volcanic activity, flooding all have roots in geology. Hence a better geological understanding of these can improve our ability to live with these events.

What are rocks actually made of?

Rocks are made of various combinations of minerals that occur naturally in the earth and depending where on the earth the rocks are found will have an impact on the minerals that make them up. There are basically three types of rock formations: igneous rock formed by the cooling of volcanic magma – granite is a common example; there is sedimentary rock that is formed by successive layers of sediment which has created pressure over time, an example would be limestone; and then there is metamorphic rock which is formed from one of the previous rocks and subjected to extreme conditions that have actually altered their make up, good examples being either marble or slate.

What makes oil so controversial?

A whole bunch of reasons – one of them is clearly it is a fossil fuel – it’s a finite resource. It pollutes the atmosphere when burnt and therefore has an environmental impact on the planet. It is also a highly political resource, as well as having a heavy economic influence across the globe. Higher prices can hit economies and in some developing countries it can adversely influence governmenta because of its value.

Having said that, oil does offer huge benefits – it does provide positive economics in many countries and allow them to develop. It also currently provides mankind with sources of heating and energy, infrastructure, roads, technology, plastics and even fertilisers to feed the global population – this list is endless. There will probably always be a place for oil, but it has to be together with both renewable and cleaner sources of energy, that will enable us to reduce oil’s use as a fuel. 

How can I make sure that I will be fossilised for future generations to find?

Firstly, avoid cremation and lie yourself in a peat bog or somewhere at sea as this reduces the chance of erosion – preferably somewhere where (a) you won’t decompose very fast and (b) you won’t get broken up and eroded away.

If we humans actually wipe ourselves out in the next hundred thousand years or so, we could provide a very rich yet thin layer of what is termed a ‘Zone Fossil’. So Just make sure your fossil is one of the best preserved.

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