Why Geology Matters: Decoding the Past, Anticipating the Future

…a wonderful primer on geology, and a clear explanation of how the science is done.
Columbus Dispatch

As implied by the title of this book, one of the reasons geology is so important is that by studying the earth’s geological past we may be able to anticipate its future. We might not be able to predict everything that will happen, but understanding our planet’s history gives us a foundation for making informed estimates. Some of the things geologists predict won’t affect you or me or even our children or grandchildren; their impact will be felt far in the future. But others – such as global warming – have more immediate consequences.

I should say here that the ‘geology’ of the title is not used in its conventional narrow sense, but more broadly to embrace the geosciences in general, from mineralogy to oceanography, and from geophysics to climate science.

How do geoscientists work out the details of the earth’s past? And how do they extrapolate that information into the future? These are questions at the heart of this book, and I try to examine them in detail. What emerges is that these scientists have invented a truly ingenious and fascinating array of tools that allow them to do things like take the temperature of the ocean tens of millions of years ago, work out the fluctuations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during ice ages, and measure the exact timing of geological events that took place billions of years ago. Sound impossible? Not so long ago, many people would have said so. But no student of geology today would blink an eye at these things. They are all possible now through measurements that are almost commonplace.

Why Geology Matters has thirteen interspersed chapters, some exploring parts of the earth’s history, others dealing with specific processes such as volcanism. The aim of this somewhat unconventional structure is to make links between topics that might at first seem unrelated; I hope it also makes interesting and stimulating reading. I’ve tried, as much as possible, to avoid jargon and complex scientific discussion, while still adhering to the main messages of the underlying research. Enjoy!

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Why Geology Matters