Geology (from the Greek γῆ, gê, "earth" and λόγος, logos, "speech") is the science and study of the solid and liquid matter that constitutes the Earth. The field of geology encompasses the study of the composition, structure, physical properties, dynamics, and history of Earth materials, and the processes by which they are formed, moved, and changed. The field is a major academic discipline, and is also important for mineral and hydrocarbon extraction, knowledge about and mitigation of natural hazards, some engineering fields, and understanding past climates and environments.
HistoryEditThe work Peri Lithon (On Stones) by the ancient Greek scholar Theophrastus (372–287 BC), a student of ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, remained authoritative for millennia. Peri Lithon was translated into Latin and some other foreign languages. Its interpretation of fossils was the most dominant theory in classical Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, until it was replaced by Avicenna's theory of petrifying fluids (succus lapidificatus) in the late Middle Ages. In the Roman period, Pliny the Elder produced a very extensive discussion of many more minerals and metals then widely used for practical ends. He is among the first to correctly identify the origin of amber as a fossilized resin from pine trees by the observation of insects trapped within some pieces. He also laid the basis of crystallography by recognising the octahedral habit of diamond.
Some modern scholars, such as Fielding H. Garrison, are of the opinion that modern geology began in the medieval Islamic world.Abu al-Rayhan al-Biruni (973–1048 AD) was one of the earliest Muslim geologists, whose works included the earliest writings on the geology of India, hypothesizing that the Indian subcontinent was once a sea. Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 981–1037), in particular, made significant contributions to geology and the natural sciences (which he called Attabieyat) along with other natural philosophers such as Ikhwan AI-Safa and many others. He wrote an encyclopaedic work entitled “Kitab al-Shifa” (the Book of Cure, Healing or Remedy from ignorance), in which Part 2, Section 5, contains his essay on Mineralogy and Meteorology, in six chapters: Formation of mountains, The advantages of mountains in the formation of clouds; Sources of water; Origin of earthquakes; Formation of minerals; The diversity of earth’s terrain. These principles were later known in the Renaissance of Europe as the law of superposition of strata, the concept of catastrophism, and the doctrine of uniformitarianism. These concepts were also embodied in the Theory of the Earth by James Hutton in the Eighteenth century C.E. Academics such as Toulmin and Goodfield (1965), commented on Avicenna's contribution: "Around A.D. 1000, Avicenna was already suggesting a hypothesis about the origin of mountain ranges, which in the Christian world, would still have been considered quite radical eight hundred years later". Avicenna's scientific methodology of field observation was also original in the Earth sciences, and remains an essential part of modern geological investigations.
In China, the polymath Shen Kua (1031–1095) formulated a hypothesis for the process of land formation: based on his observation of fossil animal shells in a geological stratum in a mountain hundreds of miles from the ocean, he inferred that the land was formed by erosion of the mountains and by deposition of silt.
Much of 19th-century geology revolved around the question of the Earth's exact age. Estimates varied from a few 100,000 to billions of years.The most significant advance in 20th century geology has been the development of the theory of plate tectonics in the 1960s. Plate tectonic theory arose out of two separate geological observations: seafloor spreading and continental drift. The theory revolutionized the Earth sciences.
The theory of continental drift was proposed by Frank Bursley Taylor in 1908, expanded by Alfred Wegener in 1912 and by Arthur Holmes, but wasn't broadly accepted until the late 1960s when the theory of plate tectonics was developed.
Geological timeEditThe geologic time scale encompasses the history of the Earth. It is bracketed at the young end by the dates of the earliest solar system material at 4.567 Ga (gigaannum: billion years ago) and the age of the Earth at 4.54 Ga, at the beginning of the informally-recognized Hadean eon. At the young end of the scale, it is bracketed by the present day in the Holocene epoch.
- 4.567 Ga: Solar system formation
- 4.54 Ga: Accretion of Earth
- c. 4 Ga: End of Late Heavy Bombardment, first life
- c. 3.5 Ga: Start of photosynthesis
- c. 2.3 Ga: Oxygenated atmosphere, first snowball Earth
- 730–635 Ma (megaannum: million years ago): two snowball Earths
- 542± 0.3 Ma: Cambrian explosion – vast multiplication of hard-bodied life; first abundant fossils; start of the Paleozoic
- c. 380 Ma: First vertebrate land animals
- 250 Ma: Permian-Triassic extinction – 90% of all land animals die. End of Paleozoic and beginning of Mesozoic
- 65 Ma: Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction – Dinosaurs die; end of Mesozoic and beginning of Cenozoic
- c. 7 Ma – Present: Hominins
The majority of geological data come from research on solid Earth materials. These typically fall into one of two categories: rock and unconsolidated material.
RocksEditThere are three major types of rock: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. The rock cycle is an important concept in geology which illustrates the relationships between these three types of rock, and magma. When a rock crystallizes from melt (magma and/or lava), it is an igneous rock. This rock can be weathered and eroded, and then redeposited and lithified into a sedimentary rock, or be turned into a metamorphic rock due to heat and pressure that change the mineral content of the rock and give it a characteristic fabric. The sedimentary rock can then be subsequently turned into a metamorphic rock due to heat and pressure, and the metamorphic rock can be weathered, eroded, deposited, and lithified, becoming a sedimentary rock. Sedimentary rock may also be re-eroded and redeposited, and metamorphic rock may also undergo additional metamorphism. All three types of rocks may be re-melted; when this happens, a new magma is formed, from which an igneous rock may once again crystallize.
The majority of research in geology is associated with the study of rock, as rock provides the primary record of the majority of the geologic history of the Earth.
Geologists also study unlithified material, which typically comes from more recent deposits. Because of this, the study of such material is often known as Quaternary geology, after the recent Quaternary Period. This includes the study of sediment and soils, and is important to some (or many) studies in geomorphology, sedimentology, and paleoclimatology.
Plate TectonicEditln the 1960s, a series of discoveries, the most important of which was seafloor spreading, showed that the Earth's lithosphere, which includes the crust and rigid uppermost portion of the upper mantle, is separated into a number of tectonic plates that move across the plastically-deforming, solid, upper mantle, which is called the asthenosphere. There is an intimate coupling between the movement of the plates on the surface and the convection of the mantle: oceanic plate motions and mantle convection currents always move in the same direction, because the oceanic lithosphere is the rigid upper thermal boundary layer of the convecting mantle. This coupling between rigid plates moving on the surface of the Earth and the convecting mantle is called plate tectonics.
The development of plate tectonics provided a physical basis for many observations of the solid Earth. Long linear regions of geologic features could be explained as plate boundaries.Mid-ocean ridges, high regions on the seafloor where hydrothermal vents and volcanoes exist, were explained as divergent boundaries, where two plates move apart. Arcs of volcanoes and earthquakes were explained as convergent boundaries, where one plate subducts under another. Transform boundaries, such as the San Andreas fault system, resulted in widespread powerful earthquakes. Plate tectonics also provided a mechanism for Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift, in which the continents move across the surface of the Earth over geologic time. They also provided a driving force for crustal deformation, and a new setting for the observations of structural geology. The power of the theory of plate tectonics lies in its ability to combine all of these observations into a single theory of how the lithosphere moves over the convecting mantle.
Seismologists can use the arrival times of seismic waves in reverse to image the interior of the Earth. Early advances in this field showed the existence of a liquid outer core (where shear waves were not able to propagate) and a dense solid inner core. These advances led to the development of a layered model of the Earth, with a crust and lithosphere on top, the mantle below (separated within itself by seismic discontinuities at 410 and 660 kilometers), and the outer core and inner core below that. More recently, seismologists have been able to create detailed images of wave speeds inside the earth in the same way a doctor images a body in a CT scan. These images have led to a much more detailed view of the interior of the Earth, and have replaced the simplified layered model with a much more dynamic model.
Mineralogists have been able to use the pressure and temperature data from the seismic and modelling studies alongside knowledge of the elemental composition of the Earth at depth to reproduce these conditions in experimental settings and measure changes in crystal structure. These studies explain the chemical changes associated with the major seismic discontinuities in the mantle, and show the crystallographic structures expected in the inner core of the Earth.
- Inner Core
- Outer Core
- Lower Mantle
- Upper Mantle
- Crust Layer
Evolution of an areaEditThe geology of an area evolves through time as rock units are deposited and inserted and deformational processes change their shapes and locations.
Rock units are first emplaced either by deposition onto the surface or intrusion into the overlying rock. Deposition can occur when sediments settle onto the surface of the Earth and later lithify into sedimentary rock, or when as volcanic material such as volcanic ash or lava flows blanket the surface. Igneous intrusions such as batholiths, laccoliths, dikes, and sills, push upwards into the overlying rock, and crystallize as they intrude.
After the initial sequence of rocks has been deposited, the rock units can be deformed and/or metamorphosed. Deformation typically occurs as a result of horizontal shortening, horizontal extension, or side-to-side (strike-slip) motion. These structural regimes broadly relate to convergent boundaries, divergent boundaries, and transform boundaries, respectively, between tectonic plates.When rock units are placed under horizontal compression, they shorten and become thicker. Because rock units, other than muds, do not significantly change in volume, this is accomplished in two primary ways: through faulting and folding. In the shallow crust, where brittle deformation can occur, thrust faults form, which cause deeper rock to move on top of shallower rock. Because deeper rock is often older, as noted by the principle of superposition, this can result in older rocks moving on top of younger ones. Movement along faults can result in folding, either because the faults are not planar, or because the rock layers are dragged along, forming drag folds, as slip occurs are along the fault. Deeper in the Earth, rocks behave plastically, and fold instead of faulting. These folds can either be those where the material in the center of the fold buckles upwards, creating "antiforms", or where it buckles downwards, creating "synforms". If the tops of the rock units within the folds remain pointing upwards, they are called anticlines and synclines, respectively. If some of the units in the fold are facing downward, the structure is called an overturned anticline or syncline, and if all of the rock units are overturned or the correct up-direction is unknown, they are simply called by the most general terms, antiforms and synforms.
Geologists use a number of field, laboratory, and numerical modeling methods to decipher Earth history and understand the processes that occur on and in the Earth. In typical geological investigations, geologists use primary information related to petrology (the study of rocks), stratigraphy (the study of sedimentary layers), and structural geology (the study of positions of rock units and their deformation). In many cases, geologists also study modern soils, rivers, landscapes, and glaciers; investigate past and current life and biogeochemical pathways, and use geophysical methods to investigate the subsurface.
Geological field work varies depending on the task at hand. Typical fieldwork could consist of:
- Geological mapping
- Structural mapping: the locations of the major rock units and the faults and folds that led to their placement there.
- Stratigraphic mapping: the locations of sedimentary facies (lithofacies and biofacies) or the mapping of isopachs of equal thickness of sedimentary rock
- Surficial mapping: the locations of soils and surficial deposits
- Surveying of topographic features
- Subsurface mapping through geophysical methods.
- High-resolution stratigraphy
- Biogeochemistry and geomicrobiology
- Collecting samples to:
- And to use these discoveries to
- Understand early life on Earth and how it functioned and metabolized
- Find important compounds for use in pharmaceuticals.
- Paleontology: excavation of fossil material
- Collection of samples for geochronology and thermochronology
- Glaciology: measurement of characteristics of glaciers and their motion
In addition to the field identification of rocks, petrologists identify rock samples in the laboratory. Two of the primary methods for identifying rocks in the laboratory are through optical microscopy and by using an electron microprobe. In an optical mineralogy analysis, thin sections of rock samples are analyzed through a petrographic microscope, where the minerals can be identified through their different properties in plane-polarized and cross-polarized light, including their birefringence, pleochroism, twinning, and interference properties with a conoscopic lens. In the electron microprobe, individual locations are analyzed for their exact chemical compositions and variation in composition within individual crystals. Stable and radioactive isotope studies provide insight into the geochemical evolution of rock units.
Extra solar terrestrial planetsEdit
Formation of solar planetsEditThe Solar System is believed to have formed according to the nebular hypothesis, first proposed in 1755 by Immanuel Kant and independently formulated by Pierre-Simon Laplace. This theory holds that 4.6 billion years ago the Solar System formed from the gravitational collapse of a giant molecular cloud. This initial cloud was likely several light-years across and probably birthed several stars.
The first solid particles were microscopic in size. These particles orbited the Sun in nearly circular orbits right next to each other, as the gas from which they condensed. Gradually the gentle collisions allowed the flakes to stick together and make larger particles which, in turn, attracted more solid particles towards them. This process is known as accretion. The objects formed by accretion are called planetesimals—they act as seeds for planet formation. Initially, planetesimals were closely packed. They coalesced into larger objects, forming clumps of up to a few kilometers across in a few million years, a small time with comparison to the age of the solar system. After the planetesimals grew bigger in sizes, collisions became highly destructive, making further growth more difficult. Only the biggest planetesimals survived the fragmentation process and continued to slowly grow into protoplanets by accretion of planetesimals of similar composition After the protoplanet formed, accumulation of heat from radioactive decay of short-lived elements melted the planet, allowing materials to differentiate (i.e. to separate according to their density).
The four inner or terrestrial planets have dense, rocky compositions, few or no moons, and no ring systems. They are composed largely of minerals with high melting points, such as the silicates which form their solid crusts and semi-liquid mantles, and metals such as iron and nickel, which form their cores.
The Mariner 10 mission (1974) mapped about half the surface of Mercury. On the basis of that data, scientists have a first-order understanding of the geology and history of the planet. Mercury's surface shows intercrater plains, basins, smooth plains, craters, and tectonic features.
Mercury's oldest surface is its intercrater plains, which are present (but much less extensive) on the Moon. The intercrater plains are level to gently rolling terrain that occur between and around large craters. The plains predate the heavily cratered terrain, and have obliterated many of the early craters and basins of Mercury; they probably formed by widespread volcanism early in mercurian history.
Mercurian craters have the morphological elements of lunar craters—the smaller craters are bowl-shaped, and with increasing size, they develop scalloped rims, central peaks, and terraces on the inner walls. The ejecta sheets have a hilly, lineated texture and swarms of secondary impact craters. Fresh craters of all sizes have dark or bright halos and well developed ray systems. Although mercurian and lunar craters are superficially similar, they show subtle differences, especially in deposit extent. The continuous ejecta and fields of secondary craters on Mercury are far less extensive (by a factor of about 0.65) for a given rim diameter than those of comparable lunar craters. This difference results from the 2.5 times higher gravitational field on Mercury compared with the Moon. As on the Moon, impact craters on Mercury are progressively degraded by subsequent impacts. The freshest craters have ray systems and a crisp morphology. With further degradation, the craters lose their crisp morphology and rays and features on the continuous ejecta become more blurred until only the raised rim near the crater remains recognizable. Because craters become progressively degraded with time, the degree of degradation gives a rough indication of the crater's relative age. On the assumption that craters of similar size and morphology are roughly the same age, it is possible to place constraints on the ages of other underlying or overlying units and thus to globally map the relative age of craters. Mercury’s Caloris Basin is one of the largest impact features in the Solar System.At least 15 ancient basins have been identified on Mercury. Tolstoj is a true multi-ring basin, displaying at least two, and possibly as many as four, concentric rings. It has a well-preserved ejecta blanket extending outward as much as 500 kilometres (311 mi) from its rim. The basin interior is flooded with plains that clearly postdate the ejecta deposits. Beethoven has only one, subdued massif-like rim 625 kilometres (388 mi) in diameter, but displays an impressive, well lineated ejecta blanket that extends as far as 500 kilometres (311 mi). As at Tolstoj, Beethoven ejecta is asymmetric. The Caloris basin is defined by a ring of mountains 1,300 kilometres (808 mi) in diameter. Individual massifs are typically 30 kilometres (19 mi) to 50 kilometres (31 mi) long; the inner edge of the unit is marked by basin-facing scarps. Lineated terrain extends for about 1,000 kilometres (621 mi) out from the foot of a weak discontinuous scarp on the outer edge of the Caloris mountains; this terrain is similar to the sculpture surrounding the Imbrium basin on the Moon. Hummocky material forms a broad annulus about 800 kilometres (497 mi) from the Caloris mountains. It consists of low, closely spaced to scattered hills about 0.3 to 1 kilometre (1 mi) across and from tens of meters to a few hundred meters high. The outer boundary of this unit is gradational with the (younger) smooth plains that occur in the same region. A hilly and furrowed terrain is found antipodal to the Caloris basin, probably created by antipodal convergence of intense seismic waves generated by the Caloris impact.
VenusEditThe surface of Venus is comparatively very flat. When 93% of the topography was mapped by Pioneer Venus, scientists found that the total distance from the lowest point to the highest point on the entire surface was about 13 kilometres (8 mi), while on the Earth the distance from the basins to the Himalayas is about 20 kilometres (12.4 mi). According to the data of the altimeters of the Pioneer, nearly 51% of the surface is found located within 500 metres (1,640 ft) of the median radius of 6,052 km (3760 mi); only 2% of the surface is located at greater elevations than 2 kilometres (1 mi) from the median radius.
Venus shows no evidence of active plate tectonics. There is debatable evidence of active tectonics in the planet's distant past; however, events taking place since then (such as the plausible and generally accepted hypothesis that the Venusian lithosphere has thickened greatly over the course of several hundred million years) has made constraining the course of its geologic record difficult. However, the numerous well-preserved impact craters has been utilized as a dating method to approximately date the Venusian surface (since there are thus far no known samples of Venusian rock to be dated by more reliable methods). Dates derived are the dominantly in the range ~500 Mya–750Mya, although ages of up to ~1.2 Gya have been calculated. This research has led to the fairly well accepted hypothesis that Venus has undergone an essentially complete volcanic resurfacing at least once in its distant past, with the last event taking place approximately within the range of estimated surface ages. While the mechanism of such an impressionable thermal event remains a debated issue in Venusian geosciences, some scientists are advocates of processes involving plate motion to some extent. There are almost 1,000 impact craters on Venus, more or less evenly distributed across its surface.
Earth-based radar surveys made it possible to identify some topographic patterns related to craters, and the Venera 15 and Venera 16 probes identified almost 150 such features of probable impact origin. Global coverage from Magellan subsequently made it possible to identify nearly 900 impact craters.
MarsEditThe surface of Mars is thought to be primarily composed of basalt, based upon the observed lava flows from volcanos, the Martian meteorite collection, and data from landers and orbital observations. The lava flows from Martian volcanos show that that lava has a very low viscosity, typical of basalt. Analysis of the soil samples collected by the Viking landers in 1976 indicate iron-rich clays consistent with weathering of basaltic rocks. There is some evidence that some portion of the Martian surface might be more silica-rich than typical basalt, perhaps similar to andesitic rocks on Earth, though these observations may also be explained by silica glass, phyllosilicates, or opal. Much of the surface is deeply covered by dust as fine as talcum powder. The red/orange appearance of Mars' surface is caused by iron(III) oxide (rust). Mars has twice as much iron oxide in its outer layer as Earth does, despite their supposed similar origin. It is thought that Earth, being hotter, transported much of the iron downwards in the 1,800 kilometres (1,118 mi) deep, 3,200 °C (5,792 °F), lava seas of the early planet, while Mars, with a lower lava temperature of 2,200 °C (3,992 °F) was too cool for this to happen.
The core is surrounded by a silicate mantle that formed many of the tectonic and volcanic features on the planet. The average thickness of the planet's crust is about 50 km, and it is no thicker than 125 kilometres (78 mi), which is much thicker than Earth's crust which varies between 5 kilometres (3 mi) and 70 kilometres (43 mi). As a result Mars' crust does not easily deform, as was shown by the recent radar map of the south polar ice cap which does not deform the crust despite being about 3 km thick.
Crater morphology provides information about the physical structure and composition of the surface. Impact craters allow us to look deep below the surface and into Mars geological past. Lobate ejecta blankets (pictured left) and central pit craters are common on Mars but uncommon on the Moon, which may indicate the presence of near-surface volatiles (ice and water) on Mars. Degraded impact structures record variations in volcanic, fluvial, and eolian activity.
The Yuty crater is an example of a Rampart crater so called because of the rampart like edge of the ejecta. In the Yuty crater the ejecta completely covers an older crater at its side, showing that the ejected material is just a thin layer.
The geological history of Mars can be broadly classified into many epochs, but the following are the three major ones:
- Noachian epoch (named after Noachis Terra): Formation of the oldest extant surfaces of Mars, 3.8 billion years ago to 3.5 billion years ago. Noachian age surfaces are scarred by many large impact craters. The Tharsis bulge volcanic upland is thought to have formed during this period, with extensive flooding by liquid water late in the epoch.
- Hesperian epoch (named after Hesperia Planum): 3.5 billion years ago to 1.8 billion years ago. The Hesperian epoch is marked by the formation of extensive lava plains.
- Amazonian epoch (named after Amazonis Planitia): 1.8 billion years ago to present. Amazonian regions have few meteorite impact craters but are otherwise quite varied. Olympus Mons formed during this period along with lava flows elsewhere on Mars.
|Core (Inner, Outer) • Mantle • Crust • Plate Tectonic • Atmosphere|
|The Planet Earth·Geology·Continents·Oceans·Sea|
|The Solar System|
|Inner Planets||Mercury • Venus • Earth • Mars|
|Outer Planets||Jupiter • Saturn • Uranus • Neptune • Pluto|
|Others||The Planet Earth • Formation • Surface geology|