Geology is the study of planet Earth – the materials of which it is made, the processes that modify these materials, the resulting products, and the history of the planet and the life forms it has sustained since its formation c. 4.55 billion years ago. Geology considers the physical forces that act on the Earth, the chemistry of its constituent materials including rocks, minerals, soils and water, and the biology of its past inhabitants as revealed by fossils. The knowledge thus obtained is placed in the service of humanity – to aid in the discovery of energy and mineral resources in the Earth’s crust, to identify and optimize land usage for agriculture and other activities, to identify geologically stable sites for major structures/development, and to inform society concerning the hazards associated with living on an active, dynamic planet.

Fossilized, dinner-plate size, algal mounds (stromatolites) of the Rocknest Formation

Fossilized, dinner-plate size, algal mounds (stromatolites) of the Rocknest Formation as exposed at Port Epworth (Nunavut), western Canadian Arctic. The dolomitic strata of the Rocknest Formation are between 1970 – 1880 million years old. Stromatolites, here preserved in life position, constitute some of the earliest traces of life itself on Planet Earth. Photo by Marc St-Onge (GSC).

Modern geology stems from the 19th Century “Scottish School of Geology”, with the physician, geologist, and gentleman scholar, James Hutton (1726-1797) as its founder. Early adherents including Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) advocating the “present is key to the past” concept (uniformitarianism) and William “Strata” Smith (1769-1839) producing the world’s first nationwide geological map – the “map that changed the world” – were contemporaries of the Canadian Sir William Logan (1798-1875), founder and first Director of the Geological Survey of Canada. During the latter part of the 20th Century a key new paradigm – plate tectonics – revolutionized geology by providing an explanation for the longevity of continental crust, the transitory nature of oceans, and the origin of mountains both young and old. Canadians such as Tuzo Wilson (1908-1993) and Paul Hoffman (b. 1941) contributed much to the development and application of plate tectonics to the global rock record.

Folded and fault-imbricated light-coloured crystalline gneiss and rusty coloured sedimentary and volcanic strata

Folded and fault-imbricated light-coloured crystalline gneiss and rusty coloured sedimentary and volcanic strata, Ptarmigan Fiord (Baffin Island, Nunavut), eastern Canadian Arctic. Height of fiord wall is ca. 450 metres. The crystalline gneiss is between 2.92 – 2.70 billion years old and the younger sedimentary and volcanic units between 1.96 – 1.89 billion years old. Faulting of crystalline rocks with sedimentary and volcanic strata is typical of what can be documented in the deeper levels (roots) of mountain belts, in this case the Himalayan-scale Trans-Hudson orogen of North America. Photo by Marc St-Onge (GSC).

Today geology spans a wide spectrum of sub-disciplines that are addressing issues ranging from the origin and history of supercontinents, the dynamics of ancient and recent glaciations, the evolution of mineral and energy systems, to environmental questions associated with natural resource development. Clearly not only is the science of geology exciting, it is mission-critical.


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