What is Geology?

What is geology and why should we care?
Let's get the dictionary out first!

‘Geology’ comes from the Greek word Geo, meaning ‘the Earth’, and Logia, meaning ‘study’. Geology is therefore the discipline that studies the Earth. But there’s much more to it than that. In brief, geology is a scientific discipline that looks at the composition, structure and history of the Earth and other planets. And if that sounds like a mouthful, try being a geologist!

A geologist is a person who studies this discipline at university or college and is a specialist in any area of geology.

There are so many ways to study geology

Have you heard of volcanology, sedimentology, palaeontology, stratigraphy, mineralogy, petrology, tectonics, geochemistry, planetology, marine geology or prospective geology?

Those are all sub-disciplines of geology – and there are even more! If you become a geologist, you can choose to study one or more of these sub-disciplines of geology. Volcanology will tell you how volcanoes form – for example, you’ll learn what type of volcano Mount Etna in Sicily is. Sedimentology looks at layers of sediments and investigates where they came from and how far they were transported before being deposited in a lake, river channel or floodplain. Palaeontology uncovers how animals, plants or even bacteria evolved through time.

Why should we care?

You wouldn’t think of it, but rocks can tell us a lot. They are a real tool to understand the planet’s past history. By studying them we can learn how the climate in Cork has changed through time, what types of animals or plants were present in the area millions of years ago, whether there were mountains nearby, and much more.

Geology helps us to understand the near and far future. With our current global climate changing rapidly, we can use information from the past to understand how the Earth has evolved over time.

Further, geology has loads of applications in our daily lives which many people don’t even know about. You need geology:

  • to search for rare earth elements that make up your phone;
  • to survey the bedrock in order to install windmills or even build your own house;
  • to quarry rocks that will be used to build houses, kerbs and walls;
  • to extract pigments for paint;
  • to study catastrophic events like volcanic eruptions, landslides or earthquakes.

Can I study geology?

Anyone can study geology after leaving school; there are several institutions in Ireland that offer qualifications in geology. Your teacher in school will tell you where you can go to study geology. Geology is often a passion that becomes a job. There are science camps organised in Ireland and abroad where you can learn more about geology. There are even palaeontology camps where you can help palaeontologists to look for fossils. Geologists are always happy to talk about what they do, so don’t hesitate to contact a geologist to find out more about their job or ask for an internship.

In Ireland, the Bachelor’s degree in geology takes three or four years and the Master’s degree takes one year. The modules you’ll study will depend on the university you decide to go to, but in your first year you’ll do general study and look at other sciences as well, and in the following years you’ll focus more on geology and its different sub-disciplines. Geology can be very multidisciplinary; this is why geologists also study a little bit of physics, chemistry and biology at university.

After your studies, you can decide to do a PhD to specialise in a topic that you are particularly interested in or you can find a job as a geologist. There are many sectors that employ geologists, such as energy (renewable or oil and gas), environmental geology, mining, hydrogeology, communication, natural hazards and risks, engineering geology, etc. Geology will give you skills that are sought after in the employment market, like critical thinking, communication and writing skills, IT skills, attention to detail, etc.

Why I studied geology
Testimonies from early career geologists

“Geology is a fascinating and versatile science which offers insights into the origin of the universe, our planet and climate and it also underpins the development of our society. I chose to become a geologist as I love the outdoors and wanted to understand more about why the mountains, rivers, valleys and oceans formed.”
– Odhrán McCarthy, PhD in sedimentary provenance at UCC.

“I chose geology because I wanted to learn different ways of viewing the world around us. Geology brings a unique and passionate understanding about the different mechanisms in our planet and I think that is fascinating. As a marine geologist, I am passionate about studying deep-water environments and their mysteries.”
– Larissa Macedo Cruz de Oliveira, PhD student in marine geology at UCC.

“I didn’t plan on studying geology at university – but luckily it’s where I ended up. Geology is connected to everything around you, from buildings to phones to green technologies. So, as an economic geologist, I use geochemistry to study the rocks that host metal deposits like lead, zinc, copper and cobalt. This helps me to figure out what processes led to these metals becoming concentrated in the ground beneath our feet, which can then be used to help find more of these types of metal deposits. Metals like lead, zinc, copper and cobalt are an important part of many green technologies (e.g. wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles) and so finding more of these will be a crucial part of transitioning to a greener future.”
– Aileen Doran, Postdoctoral researcher in economic geology at iCRAG.

“Geology is a science that taught me how to appreciate nature and how fragile our environment is. I specialised in palaeontology because I was fascinated by fossils; I am able to look at animals and plants that are extinct today but preserved forever in rocks. I feel like I’m travelling back in time, and that’s an amazing feeling!”
– Aude Cincotta, postdoctoral researcher in palaeontology at UCC.

“I chose to study geology as I was always fascinated with the natural world and wanted to know more about how it formed and how it changes through time. As a science engagement officer, I strive to inspire others to become curious about the ground beneath their feet. Rocks tell the story of our planet. I love that no matter where you go in the world you can read the landscape and understand a part of its epic tale.”
– Jess Franklin, science engagement officer at UCC.