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What is Environmental Geology? - Definition & Importance

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 branch of science known as environmental geology. It is a highly important scientific field that impacts the daily life of every living thing on Earth.

What is Environmental Geology?

When most people hear someone mention geology, the first image that pops into their mind is usually either someone wielding a rock hammer or someone drilling for oil. Most people don't realize that there is so much more to the field of geology than that. Geology is the branch of science that deals with the Earth, its materials, and its processes. Environmental geology is the branch of geology that is concerned with the interactions between humans and the geologic environment. Environmental geology is essentially a way of applying geologic knowledge to identify, remediate, and hopefully prevent, environmental problems from occurring as a result of people.

Environmental geologists must have a solid understanding of not only currently occurring geologic events, but historical geologic events, such as past earthquakes and floods. This knowledge of the past is important because it helps them to get a better idea of what types of geologic events repeat themselves, with what frequency they might occur, and what types of damage occurred because of those events. This is different than what a paleontologist (someone who studies fossils) would do, because environmental geologists are concerned with how the past is relating to the present.

Likewise, environmental geologists can also attempt to protect people from environmental factors beyond their control (like suggesting that they not build a home in an active flood plain). Environmental geology as a field is just as broadly reaching and interesting as geology is, with many potential phenomena and human-Earth interactions to research.

Environmental geologists help to produce environmental hazard maps, like this lava hazard map.

Importance of Environmental Geology

Environmental geology is a fundamentally important branch of science because it directly impacts every single person on the planet every single day. There is simply no way to avoid the environment around you.

The decisions that people, businesses, and governments make regarding the environment and environmental issues impact countless people, not merely the person or people who made the original decision. The human impact of both natural and man-made environmental issues is a significant ethical concern, making proper understanding of the science behind these issues all the more important.

One application of environmental geology is pollution mitigation, as is the case with the Superfund program.

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