Saturday, March 5, 2011

"I'm a Geologist": Why That's Important

The following words are not mine, but I wish I had said them. Allen Glazner is a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and a former classmate at Pomona College (in another century). He has written a number of excellent books on the geology of California, including a beautiful book on Yosemite National Park (with Greg Stock). Geology is not about rock collecting, it's about the sustainability of living on planet Earth. This is part of a column from Please give the whole editorial a look.

"If I were to ask average people where gasoline comes from, most wouldn't really know. They might have a mental image, from a children's book, of a black pool of oil underground with a pipe sticking into it, but this is far from the truth. Many think drinking water comes "from the faucet," with little idea of what the source is. The average American home has more than 400 pounds of copper in it. Where does that come from? Even the sources of the sand and gravel vital to construction are a mystery to most people.

Well over 90 percent of the power used in the U.S. comes from fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Thank a geologist - we're the ones who find oil, natural gas, coal and uranium. Even if you think that these energy sources are loathsome, we're stuck with them for some years to come. Geothermal energy? That's an easy one - thank a geologist.

We all take clean, fresh water for granted. Thank a geologist - we find that fresh water and monitor its quality and inventory. Many "green power" devices, such as high-capacity batteries, LEDs and superstrong magnets, depend upon rare, obscure elements such as dysprosium, neodymium and indium. Thank a geologist - we're the ones who know how those elements are cycled in the Earth and where to find them.

The prices of many of these metals, including all that copper in your house, have doubled or tripled in recent years, and the price of oil has quadrupled in the past decade. Business people would benefit from learning a little geology so that they could understand this better.

Geologists are the go-to people for natural hazards. We monitor earthquakes and map faults so that buildings and bridges can be sited as safely as possible. We advise on where to put roads and houses to avoid landslides, and where to put tunnels for roads, pipelines and other infrastructure. We monitor volcanoes for risks to the local populace and aviation. We map areas susceptible to flooding. When the gasoline storage tank at the corner gas station starts to leak, we figure out where that underground gasoline plume is going and how to fix the problem."
Read more: . Thanks to Lockwood and Anne Jefferson for the tip.


Andrew Alden, Oakland Geology blog said...

Just one more reason to sit up and pay attention whenever you get a chance to hear Allen Glazner.

Julie B. said...

Thanks for posting this link! I wouldn't have seen it otherwise. This definitely would have been something I wish I could have said at a few family gatherings when asked about "rock-ology."