Thursday, September 22, 2011

Accretionary Wedge 38: Things I Wished I Learned and Things I Want to Learn

I haven’t blogged much, mostly because I’m about as scattered brained as you could get (I was going to say I haven’t done much, but then I remembered touring the Lunar Sample Lab, the Trinity Site, and several interesting hikes which I should have written about, well I will get to that soon-ish) however, when I read about this topic, I figured I had a few things to say, so I would try to write some.
                First off, I wish somebody would have told me in High School that you could study Geology in college and what you could do with that education. I honestly didn’t even know that Geologists did actual science.  I thought they were more technicians in mines or the oil fields; I grew up in the Permian Basin with a working pump jack in my school’s courtyard and two oil refineries on the outside of town, so that was all the experience I had with it. I had been interested in Earth Science since I read a book on Plate Tectonics in the first grade, but nobody told me you could make a living off of it. This actually brings me to a related issue, that I wish a professor at New Mexico Tech would have told me the definition of petrology (or I would have just asked him to clarify) since my only understanding of  the prefix petro- came from petroleum I assumed the worst. And because my stated goal in going to college was first and foremost to get away from the oil fields, I thought that Geology wasn’t the field for me and went into college without a clear path towards a degree.
                Ironically, once I talked to one of the Geology professors I found out how much I could do with a geology degree, I promptly switched my major after an aimless two year period where I floated through the basics for every science and even wetted my feet in social studies (which ended fairly unpleasantly). While most of my classes applied to my Geology degree since you have to know a lot of everything to effectively understand geology, I still wasted a lot of time on classes that didn’t interest me just so I could realize that they didn’t interest me.

                Besides learning some technical skills, which are difficult to attain at a small university, I would like the opportunity to take a class with a holistic look at the geosciences. It would be nice once you learn about Mineralogy, Petrology, Geochemistry, Sedimentology, Structural Geology, etc. to put all that knowledge together and see how they interact with one another in real life. I know that it would be nearly impossible to cover all of geology so in depth in one class, but maybe just looking at one local phenomena and looking at how the different geoscience disciplines interact with each other in that instance. For example, in New Mexico we could study the Rio Grande Rift and see how the structures formed by it where influenced by different properties of the rocks and minerals affected. It was enjoyable in introductory Geology to look at the big picture; however, I think it would be useful to step back at the end of your undergraduate degree and look at the big picture again, in the light of all you have just learned.


  1. A few weeks in a good field camp can do wonders for pulling together a diversity of previous coursework into a coherent big picture, at least of a small area.

    Personally, I don't like dirt in my food enough to handle field camp, but I do go out on all the geology trips I can.

  2. Nice post.

    Echoing your first commenter and your last paragraph, the way we usually end up synthesizing (even being forced to synthesize) is when we start studying the geology of a particular area. In order to understand the hydrology of the Oregon Cascades, I had to learn an awful lot of volcanology, a bit of tectonics, a bit of glacial geology and paleoclimate, etc.

    Another way to synthesize can be to focus on themes like Natural Disasters or Resource Geology which bring together different disciplines with an applied focus.