Are you passionate about studying the Earth and its life forms? Are you rock or mineral collector with a keen interest in learning about the natural world? Then, perhaps earning a degree in geology is a smart move. A geology degree is widely valued by employers when looking for employment as a geoscientist, hydrogeologist, or an environmental attorney. Geology majors also go on to work as a sedimentologist, a geophysicist, and many other important careers that help our environment. The schools we list on our site are accredited degree programs in geology and related fields at the associate and bachelor’s degree levels.
Definition of Geology
Geology is a science that studies the Earth and the materials that it’s made of. It looks at the rocks that the Earth is composed of, the structure of the earth’s materials, and the processes acting upon those materials that cause the Earth to evolve. Through the study of geology we can understand the history of the Earth. Geologists decipher evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and the past climates the Earth has been through. Geology also includes the study of organisms that have inhabited the planet, and how they’ve changed over time.
Currently we use geology for mineral and hydrocarbon exploration, evaluating water resources, predicting natural hazards, finding remedies for environmental problems, providing insights into past climate change, and geotechnical engineering. Through geology degrees people can study geology, become a geologist, and use their knowledge to improve our Earth.
A Geology Education – An Overview
If you’re interested in studying geology, there are a few different degree options open to you in both undergrad and graduate education. The following are a few options:
- Bachelor of Arts in Geology: The BA in geology degree is intended for students who plan to pursue teacher certification, natural resource management, scientific or technical writing, and other fields that combine a strong liberal arts background with science training. BA classes may include earth materials, minerals, igneous and metamorphic rocks, oceanography, principles of astronomy, deformation of the Earth, sedimentary processes, earth surface processes, and field methods.
- Bachelor of Science in Geology: The BS in geology degree differs from the BA in that it has a strong mathematical component. It’s typically designed for students planning to pursue graduate study in geology, or work as a professional geologist. Courses may include: History of the Earth, Earth materials, deformation of the Earth, sedimentary processes, Earth surface processes, field methods, chemistry, physics, physics in electricity and magnetism, and calculus classes.
- Master of Science in Geology: This is a graduate degree in geology. Master programs are advanced geology degrees with a focus on geology classes. They typically come in both thesis and non-thesis options. Those who want to get a master’s in geology degree must have an undergraduate degree in geology or a closely related science field. Sometimes they’ll let applicants without a bachelor’s degree in geology to take pre-requisite classes before beginning a master’s program. Pre-requisite classes include: physical geology, mineralogy, paleobiology, petrography, geologic field methods, stratigraphy, igneous/metamorphic petrogenesis, structural geology, sedimentary petrogenesis, and introduction to geophysics.
- Doctorate in Geology: A PhD is the highest level of degree a person can get in geology. These programs are designed to develop creative scholarship and to prepare the student for a professional career in the geological sciences. Typically a person chooses a specialization or focus such as geochemistry, geology, geophysics, planetary geology, minerals, or more. Students can be admitted into PhD programs with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in geology. Depending on the previous degree earned, a PhD may take one to two years of study.
In all degree levels of geology, the goal is for students to master basic concepts and vocabulary in geology. Through these programs you’ll learn the following materials:
- Plate tectonics
- Origin and classification of rocks and minerals
- Geological time scale and how this relates to major events in the history of Earth and its life
- Geophysical properties of the Earth and crustal deformation
- Processes that shape the surface of the Earth
- Environmental hazards and issues
You’ll also be expected to:
- Develop skills in observing and recording geologic features and processes
- Develop competency in the interpretation of earth science data, including both qualitative and quantitative analyses
- Achieve competence in: locating and interpreting scientific literature,
- Giving oral presentations,
- Using computers at a level consistent with current professional practice
- Be able to express earth science concepts in writing
Specializations Within Geology
Not all geologists study the same thing. Since the Earth is so large there are many areas that a geologist can focus on. The following are the most common types of geology specializations within geology degrees:
Economic Geology: These geologists help locate and manage the Earth’s natural resources. These resources may include petroleum, coal, and minerals such as iron, copper, and uranium. Typically these resources are used for profit companies.
Mining Geology: This is a common form of geology that focuses on extracting mineral resources from the Earth. Typically these resources are of economic interest. They may include gemstones, metals, and many minerals such as asbestos, perlite, mica, phosphates, zeolites, clay, pumice, quartz, silica, sulfur, chlorine, and helium.
Petroleum Geology: These geologists study locations below the Earth’s surface where extractable hydrocarbons may be. They especially focus on petroleum and natural gas. Petroleum geologists also study the formation of sedimentary basins, where gas reservoirs are typically found. They look into the sedimentary and tectonic evolution, and the present-day positions of rocks within the basins.
Engineering Geology: This is the application of geologic principles to engineering practice. The main purpose of engineering geology is to assure that the geologic factors affecting the location, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of engineering works are properly addressed in engineering and building projects. In civil engineering geological principles are used in order to analyze the mechanical principles of the material on which structures are built, or will be built. This allows tunnels to be built without collapsing, and bridges and skyscrapers to be built with sturdy foundations.
Environmental Geology: Geology can be applied to various environmental problems. It can be applied in steam restoration, the restoration of brownfields, the understanding of the interactions between natural habitat and the geologic environment, and more.
Hydrology Geology: Groundwater hydrology, or hydrogeology, is used to locate groundwater. This can often provide a ready supply of uncontaminated water and is especially important in arid regions. It’s also used to monitor the spread of contaminants in groundwater wells.
Natural Hazards Geology: Geologists study natural hazards in order to enact safe building codes. They also make warning systems that are used to prevent loss of property and life amidst natural hazards. The kind of natural hazards that geologists’ study include: avalanches, earthquakes, floods, landslides, debris flows, river channel migration, avulsion, liquefaction, sinkholes, subsidence, tsunamis, and volcanoes.
Day in a Life of a Geologist
In general, geologists work to understand the history of our planet. As noted above, there are many different types of geology that geologists can focus on. The better understanding geologists have of the Earth’s history, the better they can foresee how events and processes of the past and present may influence the future. We rely on geologists to find a good supply of Earth’s products, such as natural gases and minerals. Every structure that we build we must know about the ground it sits on. Our food and fiber comes from soil, which we must understand to produce food. Protection against geologic hazards also depends on a geologists’ understanding of them.
Geologists are responsible for many important contributions to society. In fact, we rely on them in everyday life without even realizing it. Geologists use a number of field, laboratory, and numerical modeling methods to decipher Earth history. Through geological investigations, geologists use primary information related to the study of rocks (petrology), sedimentary layers (stratigraphy), and positions of rocks and their deformation (structural geology). In many cases, geologists also study modern soils, rivers, landscapes, and glaciers. They investigate past and current life and biogeochemical pathways, and use geophysical methods to investigate the subsurface of the Earth. The following are the typical categories that geologist’s work fall under:
Earth processes: The Earth is constantly evolving and changing due to natural disasters and climate change. These include landslides, earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions, all of which can be hazardous to people. Some geologists’ jobs are to understand these processes. Through understanding them they help build important structures where they won’t be damaged, or create maps of areas that have flooded in the past and that could be flooded in the future. These kinds of maps can be used in developing communities and housing areas. They can determine if certain houses need flood insurance or protection.
Earth materials: Humans use the Earth’s materials on a daily basis. We use oil that’s produced from wells, metals produced from mines, water drawn from underground sources, and more. A geologist’s work could involve studying rocks that contain important metals, finding and planning mines that could produce metals, finding oil reservoirs, and more.
Earth History: A current issue for our world is climate change. Many geologists are currently working to learn more about past climates of the Earth and how they’ve changed over time. Through understanding these patterns, geologists can understand our current climate change and what the future results of that change may be.
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