The Wonder of Geology!
Archie Bunney: 7 July 2021
Geology is the study of the rocks and minerals beneath our feet and, if you are lucky enough to live somewhere with even a hint of topography (so not Portsmouth!), visible in the natural landscape of river valleys, mountains, cliffs, and hillsides. My first memories of being intrigued and captivated by geology were from visiting the Lake District from before I could walk, let alone knew what “glacial, U-shaped valleys carved out of 450 million year old ricks” meant!
Even to experienced geologists, the time scales over which geological processes operate can still be daunting and make all of human history seem insignificant. Geologists use the rocks themselves to interpret Earth’s history using a principle called “Uniformitarianism”. The present is the key to the past, where modern Caribbean limestone forming in tropical seas at shallow depths indicates that limestones from hundreds of millions of years ago also formed in tropical seas at shallow depths.
Part of the wonder of geology is how much a seemingly boring rock face can reveal. Deformation intense enough to build mountains or destroy continents; desert sandstorms, flooding, and earthquakes from hundreds of millions of years ago; the lifestyles of ancestral plants and animals; and even massive gaps in time (“unconformities”) where no rock was deposited at all. The rocks immediately either side of an unconformity can be completely different colours, with completely different compositions, and can be tilted and deformed into completely different orientations.
Geology has a special place in my heart because of how influential it has been on human evolution and development. This extends as far back as the rocks used to build ancient monuments like the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge; through the selection of hilltops on which Iron Age civilisations built their forts, the historic development of “mining towns”, and the construction of the UK canal network; to variable vulnerability to/protection from the impacts of anthropogenic climate change.
That being said, the most breath-taking and perhaps the most easily appreciated aspect of geology is the creation of unparalleled natural beauty all around the world, with a significant amount of variation within the comparatively small British Isles. From the mountains of the Highlands to the white cliffs of Dover, and from ancient lava flows on the Giant’s Causeway to glaciated hillsides of the Brecon Beacons.
Geology is all around us, the only trick is knowing where to look!