Difference Between Physical and Historical Geology

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  • 0:02 What Is Geology?
  • 0:46 What Is Physical Geology?
  • 1:32 What Is Historical Geology?
  • 2:09 Physical & Historical Geology
  • 3:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Heather Pier

Heather has taught high school and college science courses, and has a master's degree in geography-climatology.

In this lesson, you will learn about the differences between the two major branches of geology - physical geology and historical geology. You will also learn about situations when both branches of geology are needed in order to fully understand a problem.

What Is Geology?

Many people tend to get the sciences of geography and geology confused. Geographers tend to look at the spatial and temporal trends in landforms, weather patterns, and human populations on Earth. Geology, on the other hand, is the study of the structure and function of the Earth, both in the present time and throughout history.

Geologists are concerned with what physical processes cause various geological events to occur, like earthquakes, volcanoes, erosion, and rock formation. They are also interested in knowing whether these events occurred at other times in the Earth's history, and if so, under what circumstances.

What Is Physical Geology?

Physical geology is the branch of geology that is concerned with what is happening on Earth in the here and now. Physical geologists study rock and mineral formation, active erosion, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. They also look at land use and pollution issues and assist in the search for natural resources like oil and natural gas.

Physical geologists can work in a variety of capacities, ranging from environmental monitoring to agricultural soil analysis to water resources management.

Exploratory geologists who are on the hunt for fossil fuels often find it difficult to do their job if they don't completely understand the past history of the area they are working in, in terms of its geology.

What Is Historical Geology?

Historical geology is the branch of geology that looks at preserved evidence of geological events that occurred in the past. Historical geologists may use their knowledge to reconstruct past landforms such as Pangea, a 'supercontinent' that existed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras. These researchers might also look for evidence of past flooding in an area.

However, historical geologists are best known for their work relating to fossils and dinosaurs. If something is geology-related and happened in the distant (or not quite so distant) past, it would fall under the realm of historical geology.

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