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Environmental Geology

Reed Hepler, Heather Pier
  • Author
    Reed Hepler

    Reed Hepler received an M.L.I.S. from IUPUI, with emphases in Digital Curation and Archives Management. He received a Bachelor’s in History from USU, with minors in Religious Studies and Anthropology. He also earned a Certificate in Museum Studies. He has worked in museums, libraries, archives, and historical sites for the past four years.

  • Instructor
    Heather Pier

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

Learn about environmental geology and discover its fundamental concepts. Understand the importance of environmental geology and explore its real-life applications. Updated: 08/10/2022

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Environmental Geology

Geology is the scientific study of the physical processes, structures, and substances of the earth. What is environmental geology? Environmental geology is the scientific study of the relationship between the natural processes and substances of the earth and the actions of humans. In other words, the most common subject of environmental geology is the impact of humans on their environment. The fundamental concepts of environmental geology are:

  • Humans have a direct impact on the processes that create natural features and structures.
  • Basic structures and processes of the earth have remained the same for millennia
  • The impacts of humans on natural processes and structures are generally negative. Individual actions can cause oils and other destructive, synthetic materials to infiltrate natural structures.
  • On a more general level, humans are contributing to massive negative occurrences and trends such as global warming.

Importance of Environmental Geology

The importance of environmental geology affects all sorts of human actions, from transportation to food to emergency planning. This field of scientific research studies how every action of every human has either a negative or positive influence on the planet. The research of environmental geology encourages humans to reduce their impact on the earth. The gradual increase of industrialization, the use of synthetic materials, and the widespread use of practices and products that pollute the environment have made this research extremely important.

The definition of environmental geology may lead some to think that the only subject in which environmental geologists are interested in is the actions and trends of humanity. However, it is necessary to understand the normal processes of nature in order to understand how human interference causes deviations from these patterns. For example, geologists in general understand how water erodes the natural formations with which it comes in contact. Water gradually causes the banks of rivers and the rock walls near the ocean to gradually wear away. These processes are natural and are generally not altered by humans.

However, the effects of these processes can be exacerbated by human actions. For example, pollutants in the water that are made up of synthetic waste can cause further erosion. Additionally, human actions can alter the composition of the soil being eroded by the water. Synthetic man-made materials can transfer damaging chemicals such as oils and metals into natural features. Trees can also be stunted and warped by these infiltrating materials. Industrial agriculture can result in increased disturbance to the topsoil.

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Environmental Geologist

The most common type of researcher to engage in studying environmental geology is called an environmental geologist. This field requires at least a master's degree if not a doctorate degree. In the context of environmental geology, understanding past conditions can help to understand what may cause future events. The main priorities of environmental geologists have to do with the passage of time. These priorities include the following:

  • Preventing future environmental pollution and other negative processes. Environmental geologists can encourage governments and bureaucracies to dispose of human waste in a way that will have minimum negative effects on the surrounding land. Environmental geologists can, for example, recommend that governments create wells designed to hold and dispose of wastewater. They can also create plans or guidelines for human actions in the midst of natural disasters such as floods or tornadoes.
  • Solving current environmental issues. For example, mining practices cause some damage to the geologic features upon which they infringe. Environmental geologists can inform mining practices by developing plans and procedures for certain aspects of the mining process. A common method used by environmental geologists who are managing mining and other subterranean actions is to develop a monitoring plan to examine the quality of nearby soil and groundwater.
  • Minimizing negative effects of environmental damage that occurred in the past. Environmental geologists are often prominent consultants when humans cause contamination to their environment. For example, when oil spills or other hazards occur, environmental geologists can use scientific methods to examine the chemical makeup of the area. Using these assessments, they can make estimations regarding the extent of the damage to the environment, the nature of the damage, and the most beneficial future steps that can be taken to reduce damage.


Environmental geologists seeks to diminish the impact of pollution such as this.

Color depiction of pollution. Environmental geologists seek to diminish the potential impact of this pollution.


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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the importance of environmental geology?

Environmental geology examines the impact of human actions and movements on their natural environments. It ascertains the negative impacts of humans in the past and estimates possible future effects. This field of research is important because it makes recommendations as to how humans can lessen their effect on natural processes and formations. It can also recommend ways that humans can avoid being affected by natural disasters.

What is the difference between environmental geology and geology?

Geology is the study of the creation and substances in the earth. Environmental geology studies these features and the actions of humans in an effort to discover the relationships between them.

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