branches of geology

37 Branches of Geology and Why They’re Important

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37 Branches of Geology and Why They’re Important

Geology is the study of rocks, how they form, and how they fall apart. It’s one of the Earth sciences and is perfect for anyone who’s curious about the rocks under our feet. You can be a geologist, but geology is a very broad branch of Earth sciences and it splits up into numerous other branches. Believe it or not, there are 37 different branches of geology, each focusing on a different piece of this Earth sciences puzzle. Let’s take a closer look at the different branches of geology and why they’re important.

Natural Resources

Rocks are one of the planet’s most abundant natural resources. However, since they come in so many different forms, we need ten different branches of geology to give us an in-depth understanding of them all.

If you enjoy eating apples or other fruits, then you’ve partaken in pomology, which is the study of how fruits are cultivated. Agronomy or agrology is the name for the branch of geology that focuses on crop production and agriculture. These two branches might not be solely responsible for the food on your table but they do play a large role in its production.

Hydrogeologists study groundwater and how it moves through the planet’s crust. Pedologists classify different soils based on their biological, physical, and chemical properties. Soil scientists, on the other hand, study how soils form, how they’re classified, and what makes them fertile for growing. Meanwhile, people who study edaphology focus their research on how soil makes plants grow.

Do you have a favorite rock, like quartz or tiger eye or sapphire? Then you’ve enjoyed one of three branches of geology. Crystallographers study how atoms arrange themselves in crystalline structures, while gemologists study both natural and artificial gems. In a similar vein, mineralogists spend their time figuring out how these gems and crystals form in nature.

Gems, rocks and soil are all valuable natural resources. If you like getting your hands dirty, one of the natural resources branches of geology might be the best choice for you.

Tectonics

While the ground under your feet might feel solid, it’s actually moving — so slowly that you don’t generally notice until an earthquake strikes or a volcano erupts. Tectonics is one of the six branches of geology that fall under this umbrella. Anyone who studies tectonics spends their time looking into how the Earth’s crust formed and how it changes and evolves over time.

This umbrella also encompasses volcanology, the study of how volcanos erupt, how they form, and anything else related to volcanos. These are also the people you want to have around if it looks like a volcano might erupt because they have the tools and knowledge to predict those events. Seismologists study earthquakes and how the seismic waves they create travel through the Earth’s crust.

There are also three branches of tectonic geology that most people don’t think about: neotectonics, which is the study of how the crust has deformed recently, tectonophysics, which studies both the crust and mantle to see how and when they deform and seismotectonics which studies earthquakes and faults.

Sediments/Rocks

Earthquakes and volcanoes aren’t the only things affecting rocks and soil on the planet’s surface. Studying sediments and rocks help us learn more about our planet. Some geologists look into the effects that weather and other things have had on the planet’s surface and how it formed.

Sedimentologists study how things like sand and clay are deposited, both on the surface and within the Earth’s crust. Surficial geologists study that same sediment, to learn how it formed. They often work closely with glaciologists, who study glaciers and how ice has impacted the shape of the planet’s landforms.

Geophysicists study the planet in relation to the space around it. Bedrock geologists study the solid rock that sits beneath the soil and sediment. Finally, lithologists classify the rocks that all of these other geologists find based on how they look and their chemical properties.

That brings our total up to 22 branches of geology and we’re not done yet!

Chronology

Next, we’ve got the chronology umbrella, branches of geology that deal specifically with time. If you love dinosaurs, you’re already familiar with one of the branches of chronology — paleontology! This study of the fossil record falls under geology because, by the time bones become fossils, they’re basically just rocks themselves. You’ve also got micropaleontology, which follows the study of microfossils.

The chronology family includes branches like stratigraphy, which studies how rocks are layered and use those layers to calculate the passing of geologic time, and paleomagnetism, which uses rocks to study how the planet’s magnetic field changed over time. Magnetostratigraphy combines the two fields together.

We’ve also got geomorphologists who study how landforms are created, paleoseismologists who study ancient earthquakes, and geochronologists that use rocks to attach dates to past geological events. The rocks under our feet can teach us a lot about what the world used to look like and the changes that it went through to get where it is today.

Topography

The topography family focuses the physical features of the landscape. This is probably the smallest umbrella, only covering three fields.

First, we’ve got orography the study of mountains and their distribution across the Earth’s crust. From the Appalachians to the Rockies, there’s plenty for orography students to study. Next is topography, which is how things are arranged in the landscape. If you’ve ever seen a map that shows mountains, valleys and other natural features, you’ve seen topography in action.

Finally, there’s hypsometry which focuses on the height of things as they relate to sea level. These three fields are all part of geography and help us map the world around us.

Astrogeology

Finally, we’ve got astrogeology which focuses on the study of geology once we leave the Earth. Astrogeology itself focuses on how our planetary geology relates to other celestial bodies. If we get hit by an asteroid or a meteor, that falls under the astrogeology umbrella. From there, the field gets broken up into three other specialties:

Areology focuses on the geology of Mars. Aerology gets its name from Ares, the Greek god of war. Selenography on the other hand, focuses on the moon, and exogeology covers other celestial bodies, like asteroids, moons, and comets.

Which Do You Want to Study First?

Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of the 37 different branches of geology, which ones do you want to study first?

 

37 Branches of Geology and Why They're Important
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Article by: Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and science enthusiast. Her favorite subjects include astronomy and the environment. Megan is also a regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Thomas Insights, and Real Clear Science. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing.