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Why geologists study earth processes

Geologists are 'earth detectives'. Just like other detectives, we need clues that can help us explain what happened in the past. Studying what happens at the coast, in rivers or in the desert can help us figure out how landscapes change and sedimentary rocks form.

Glacial ice is very heavy and causes the earth's crust to be pushed down. When the ice melts, the crust slowly rises up again. A series of raised beaches (the long curved lines) show how much the crust has risen. In other parts of the world, sea level is getting higher as the glaciers melt.

The long curved ridges poking out of the snow are a series of raised beaches.  Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. © Abigail Burt

Geologists use these clues to figure out what is buried under the ground surface. This information can be used in many different ways.

Geologists can look at how stones are lined up or the shape of ripples and tell which way the ancient river that deposited them was flowing.

This geologist is measuring the direction that ripples and small dunes are pointing.  Oro Moraine, near Barrie, Ontario, Canada. © Abigail Burt
A horizontal slice through the tops of several ripples.  The ripples are outlined by black heavy minerals.  Southern Ontario, Canada. © Abigail Burt

A vertical section dug through a fan.  The fan was deposited in a glacial lake.  The gravel pockets were formed by streams flowing across the fan.  Beausejour, Manitoba, Canada. © Abigail Burt

The sand in this picture was deposited in a huge glacial lake that drained away thousands of years ago. The gravel was deposited in river channels that flowed across the sand.

Geology can help us to find and protect groundwater aquifers William.

This diagram shows a slice through the sediments north of Barrie, Ontario, Canada.  It shows all the important layers in the ground.  Aquifers are shown in yellow, orange and red. © Queen's printer 2010

Geology can help us find new mineral deposits.

Headframe and mill, Hemlo, Ontario, Canada. © Queen's printer 2003

Geology can help us figure out where natural hazards make it unsafe for people to live.

A caterpillar D8 stranded in the flooding Kilembe River, Kilembe, Uganda. © Richard Burt House toppling due to coastal erosion

Geology can help us make decisions that will protect the environment.

Rivers are very important.  They are the home of aquatic plants and animals like insects, fish, frogs and turtles.  People, birds and larger animals drink water and eat food from rivers. © OGS Queen's Printer 2005 A chinstrap penguin in Antarctica.  Penguin colonies can be hurt by changes in the environment. © Abigail Burt


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