Ground and Water Engineer Ryan Jones has always had a passion for geology. Friends and family don’t always share this interest but here he discusses how important it is.
In this day and age, there are many things that are of constant concern to not just our societies and communities but to our planet and species as a whole. Pandemics, environmental degradation, habitat loss, and climate change to name but a few. It is known that scientists and engineers are under more pressure than ever to provide solutions to these problems, but there is a role that is pivotal, and some would say integral to providing these solutions – that of the humble geologist.
It is a common assumption and misconception that geology is “just a bunch of rocks and mud” but geology is integrated into the fabric of every aspect of our lives. The understanding of geology is key to understanding not only our species and planet’s past but also how we interact, use and work with the ground beneath us today – and how we will go forward with sustainability and the environment in mind.
You may think “how is my life affected by geology?” but it certainly is, likely in more ways than you or I could think of. From the phones in our hands, the cars we drive to work to the houses we live in, and the food that we eat. The interactions and connections to the ground beneath us are everywhere.
Throughout history, our species has owed a lot to geology as the prosperous cultures and myriad of engineering accomplishments would not be possible if it wasn’t for a little bit of geological understanding and knowledge of the world beneath our feet.
Resources and Technology
Our species has, of course, only ever had access to materials which were on and in this planet long before we were here. Any and all of the impressive feats of construction and engineering you can think of around the world and through time, from the Great Pyramid to the Burj Khalifa, via the Great Wall of China (okay, geographically speaking that would be a strange route to take, but in terms of history they line up) would be impossible without utilising and combining those building blocks provided to us by the Earth, and indeed the earth.
Precious metals have been traded for millennia, becoming the cornerstone of economies in the ancient world and all the way up to the 21st century. Today they are still relatively valuable, but in terms of holding our economy together in this digital age, their most important use is in our computers, phones, tablets, and other devices which allow us to transfer our now predominantly digital currencies around the world in seconds. For better or for worse, a great many of the things we take for granted in every day life are derived from hydrocarbons which were once deep within our planet – from plastics to fuel for our vehicles. Whilst in recent years concern has grown regarding the negative impact of these things, this surely shows even more how important it is that we fully understand the potential for what’s beneath our feet.
If our species has utilised and taken advantage of one thing, it is energy, and that energy has fuelled so much advancement including the Industrial Revolution which has not only provided us with much of the technology we use today but shaped the modern world around us. This leap in production and innovation has largely been due to the ingenuity of geologists and scientists who discovered that certain minerals and materials in the form of coal, oil, and gas can be used as an efficient energy source.
Again, as beneficial as these resources have been to us in the past, we are now learning more than ever that, they come with a price in the form of global warming, environmental degradation, and pollution. The need for a transition to a low carbon society is urgent and geologists will be a vital part of achieving this as an understanding of how geology can not only be a source of fossil fuels but a medium to reduce emissions is a rapidly growing and important area of research.
Centuries of industrial development have left their mark in the form of environmental degradation, pollution, and loss of habitat. Understanding the role geology plays and its interwoven connections with the biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere is crucial to developing sustainable models for ensuring we can not only repair and improve current issues but prevent them in the future.
The key to understanding our present challenges and changes regarding climate change can be found in the geological record. This record is a literal chronological timeline of climatic change that has occurred throughout the history of our planet including multiple ice ages, periods of much higher temperatures, and conditions we experience today – all this evidence of climatic change that geology provides is highly important in how it may change in the future.
The most important lesson a student will learn about geology and the planet as a whole is that we are ultimately along for the ride and the planet, and its geological changes can remind us of it from time to time. Over time our societies have experienced these sometimes catastrophic changes in the form of earthquakes, landslides, sinkholes, tsunamis, and volcanoes. These moments of extreme geology must be understood – geologists and scientists play a vital role in learning and predicting these changes to ensure we don’t take what’s beneath our feet for granted.
Water is undoubtedly among the most important components to almost any form of life on Earth and, like all those other components, it is a part of an ecosystem which was around long before we were. Hydrogeology is the study of groundwater, meaning all water stored in the rocks and soil of the Earth’s crust. At any given time, groundwater represents by far the largest amount of fresh water on earth – comfortably more than all the lakes, reservoirs, rivers and so on around the world. As such, this is a very important consideration when it comes to water resource management, potential scarcity, and overuse/sustainability concerns. In the UK, one third of water used is currently sourced from groundwater, stored in underground aquifers like the chalk aquifer. A keen understanding of these systems is absolutely vital to any effort towards ensuring safe and sustainable water use now and for generations to come.
Construction and Engineering
Understanding geological ground conditions and how buildings, infrastructure, and people interact with them is key. Being aware and knowing how the ground will interact with engineering is essential in providing safe, durable, and cost-effective solutions to our everyday requirements, whether it’s building a house, digging a tunnel or installing sustainable green technology. The parameters and restrictions different geologies represent to engineering must be well understood and respected.
Overall, everything somehow is related to Geology. Ultimately an understanding of Geology is pivotal in securing our energy demands, materials for sustainable and green technology, sustaining global food supply and water supplies, predicting and managing natural disasters and geological hazards, and everything in between. An understanding of those bunch of rocks and the ground beneath our feet is critical for the development and improvement of life on this planet.