Earth Processes & Geologic History

Instructor: Heather Pier

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

In this lesson we will learn about Earth's myriad geologic processes and examine how they have changed its surface and materials over the course of geologic history.

What Does Geologic History Really Mean?

Before we can begin to examine the geologic processes that have made the earth what it is today, we must first understand the exactly what the scope of geologic history really means.

Geologic history refers to the history of the earth and its geologic processes, from its formation to the present.

Much like you may have learned about ancient European history or World War II history in school, geologic history shares many of the same traits as other types of history. It has a specific focus (the geological processes that impact Earth), a specific time period (the length of Earth's existence), and a specific location (all of Earth's geologic materials).

But how has Earth's history changed over time? Unlike human history, where migration and innovation have rapidly and irreversibly changed the course of that history, geologic history includes almost all of the same processes today that it did in the ancient past.

It still rains today as it did millions of years ago on the dinosaurs, and geologic plates have been shifting and causing earthquakes and mountains since Earth's plates first formed billions of years ago.

These processes can be lumped into two major groups - the processes that destroy Earth's materials, and the processes that create new materials.

Examples of Geologic Processes That Create

One of the easiest geologic processes to envision is a volcano erupting.

When it erupts, lava spills out of the crater, cools, and eventually hardens into igneous rock. The eruption process is a process that creates new material.

The lava exiting this volcano will eventually harden into a new igneous rock.

Likewise, when beach or desert sands become lithified (turned to rock) and accreted together to form sandstone, a new material is formed.

Flooding events can also cause new materials to be formed, since the deposition of excess sediment in flood waters helps natural levees to form.

Evaporation can often be thought of as a process that creates, because new solid materials form from the original liquid solution.

The evaporation of seawater created these deposits of salt.

Examples of Geologic Processes That Destroy

At the same time a volcano is erupting lava above the surface, nearby rocks below the surface are being melted by the heat from the magma chamber to produce new molten igneous material that will soon erupt and harden to form igneous rock.

But in the interim, it is a destructive process, because it is melting down the original rock into a new material.

All types of erosion are also destructive forces, as they too break down existing geologic materials.

Beaches are one of the easiest places to see the signs of erosion caused by wind and water.

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