What is Physical Geology? - Definition & Overview

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  • 0:03 What Is Geology?
  • 0:54 What Is Physical Geology?
  • 2:06 Branches of Physical Geology
  • 3:04 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.

You may know what geology is, but do you know what physical geology is? In this lesson, you'll learn about the branch of science known as physical geology and what sets it apart from other geology fields.

What Is Geology?

Some people think of geology as only being the study of rocks, but there is so much more to the field than just rocks.Geology is the branch of science that is concerned with the structure of the earth, its materials, and its changes over time. Some of these changes, such as earthquakes, occur in real-time. Others, like changes in organisms throughout the fossil record, can only be viewed in a historical context.

The understanding of both past and present geological processes is what allows geologists to achieve a full understanding of the earth and its materials. You wouldn't expect a historian to draw conclusions about changes in a civilization without understanding what came before that civilization, and good geologists must understand both past and present geological processes to draw their own conclusions.

Now that we know what geology is, let's talk about physical geology.

What Is Physical Geology?

Physical geology is the branch of geology that deals with geologic events and materials occurring at the present time, or in the very near past. This is in contrast to historical geology, which involves studying the fossil record and rock record for evidence of past geologic processes, materials, and life forms.

Physical geologists study current processes, like volcanoes, earthquakes, erosion, weathering, and glaciers. They use their understanding of historical geological processes to understand what might be causing current geologic processes to take place, as well as utilizing new technologies and techniques.

Physical geologists share some similarities with medical doctors, in that they use a combination of prior knowledge and newly acquired knowledge and technology to help solve scientific problems. Physical geologists must also have a solid understanding of other branches of science, like biology, chemistry, and physics in order to fully understand the geological processes and interactions that are important to them.

Branches of Physical Geology

Let's now talk about some of the branches of physical geology.

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