The Truth Behind a Geology Degree

There’s a lot of colouring in.

I am a baby in the Geological studies world. I’ve only just finished my first year of studying Geology and Physical Geography where I spent a lot of time having absolutely no idea what was going on and coming out of lectures thinking they were in a different language. I didn’t really know what I was expecting, I mean, I chose to study those specific modules at that specific university so I can’t really complain right? There were a lot of things that I would have benefitted from knowing before choosing Earth Sciences.

1. It’s a lot more Difficult than I Expected

If you’re currently studying geography A level or even geology A level (if your college is cool enough), and you think you may want to study geology at degree level then prepare yourself because that basic knowledge of volcanoes is assumed and they hurl you in at the deep end. In my second lecture of dynamic solid earth which started with geochemistry, we covered a semester of A level chemistry in 45 minutes. Bearing in mind, I hadn’t studied chemistry in 2 years, I was so lost. And I was terrified. I did not sign up for chemistry. No thank you.

I still am not sure what this was going on about. If anyone ever says the words “Stereonets” to you, run away.

It didn’t stop there. In the second semester we had a module on palaeontology and palaeobiology which took up 5 contact hours a week. More than this, I was convinced that my lecturer was speaking a different language most of the time. Learning about the anal system of a Brachiopod was really not my forté and stressed me out more than it should’ve. It wasn’t really what I thought I’d be studying and it’s definitely something to look for when looking at Earth Science degrees.

2. You’re Doing a Legit Science

When you tell people that you study geology, their initial reaction is “ew you study rocks” but then they do understand that it’s a difficult and well respected degree to have. You learn everything from GMOs to statistics. You’re likely to have an understanding of both essays and scientific research. Your job prospects are pretty damn good, especially if you have geography in there with it.

3. You do Colour In

Okay okay so you tell anyone that you’re studying Geography and Geology and they say “so all you do is colouring in right?” Well, they are kinda right. You do A LOT of colouring in if I’m honest. Sometimes it’s literally drawing fossils with your GCSE art qualifications and sometimes it’s drawing fault lines in the field.

If someone’s accuses you of drawing, you proudly agree that that is the majority of your degree and then find some way of judging their degree. For example, if they study engineering they also draw and if they study communications, all they do is learn how to talk to people.

4. There are Field Trips and They are Cold

Having just finished my first year, I can confidently say that sleeping in a caravan in Pembrokeshire in March while it was snowing has not been a highlight of my university experience. Luckily for me, I managed to escape after 2 days but that’s another story.

With an Earth Science degree, you will 100% have at least 1 field trip every year. It’s actually a requirement from the Geological Society in order to become a certified geologist. The field trips actually are so helpful (especially if you have no idea what’s going on in lectures). Being able to see features in the field help to solidify how the processes of rocks form and just like what was going on 350 million years ago (a lot btw).

Try to enjoy being cold while drawing pictures of rocks, it’s some of the best times of your degree.

5. Not Everyone is like Howard from Fresh Meat

After watching Fresh Meat, I genuinely thought that all geologists were nerdy male scientists who spent their time travelling to holiday destinations with cool rock formations. I was partially wrong. In my degree, I would say that it is a 50/50 split between genders and most of the people are actually normal and will do normal student things (like clubbing and taking part in societies). Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely nerds on my course, but I’ve managed to make a group of friends who don’t just talk about rocks all the time.

6. No Matter How Hard you Try, you LOVE Rocks

So when I joined my degree I was set that I thought rocks were boring and that I would hate staring at them for extended periods of time. That maybe lasted 4 weeks. Looking at rocks like the one below under a microscope really changed how I think everyone felt about rocks. They’re stunning. Not only this, but they tell a story about the environment, the climate and the geography of what that time period was like.

The moment I realised I love staring at rocks was during a practical and we were staring at a trilobite. I just remember thinking that this species went extinct like 250 million years ago but we can still look at them today to deduce where the trilobite would have lived, the environment in which it died and what this meant for the global climate at the time. I just thought that it was kinda cool that a tiny dead organism could show that.

Just accept that you get excited by rocks and move on.

Climate Change doesn’t Exist.

I do apologise if you’re here as a climate skeptic, unfortunately, I do believe in climate change as I think that science is correct on this one. It has been a subject of interest since I can remember. The term ‘global warming’ was introduced to me when I was in primary school because we were told the polar bears were going to go extinct. As a child, this made me very upset and I couldn’t understand why anyone would let that happen. However, since then, I can understand what is actually going on and how awful it could get. Somehow, some people still think it’s a myth, so here are some arguments that people still hold on to that put them in denial.

 It’s getting Colder?

It is thought that if the winters get colder or if summer does not come around until July, that global warming has ‘stopped’. People could also get this idea by looking at the graph which only looks at extreme temperature anomalies. Clearly, there are years of extreme cold such as that between 1941 to around 1950 which people may think of as global warming ‘stopping’. However, it is clear that when looking at the 100-year climate trend, temperature anomalies have been rising in degrees over average periods of 15 years.

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How is 1 or 2 Degrees going to make a Difference?

So on a hot summers day, you may feel like the difference between 25 degrees C and 27 degrees C does not affect you that much. However, when you start talking about global average temperatures, it’s a completely different story. Around 27,000 years ago, the Earth was in the Last Glacial Maximum which meant that the sea levels were 100 metres lower than they are today as 32% of the land surface was covered in ice (compared to 10% today). At this time, the average temperature was only 5 degrees C lower than they are today. If temperatures were to increase only 2.7 degrees C, this could increase sea level from melting ice which reduces habitats of terrestrial or shelf organisms. Organisms such as crabs and mussels would have a reduced habitat area (or ecospace) and would suffer a potential extinction (such as the one in the Devonian) and affect food security for those who rely on shelf organisms in their diets. 

Sea level is just one aspect of what may change. All aspects of life could also change. This could include weather patterns, energy supplies, crop yields and pollution levels. However, this is such a major issue that this is a post all in itself. 

Climate Change is just a Natural Process

So on some levels, this is correct. For example, the position of the sun relative to the Earth or the axis of the Earth could affect how extreme seasons could be (also known as Milankovitch Cycles). However, as seen in point 1, climate trends have been over the last 200 years or so but Milankovitch Cycles occur over periods of over 10,000 years. The climate of the Earth can deal with gradual changes of the Milankovitch cyclicity but the current levels of atmospheric CO2 levels correlated with temperature rise should have occurred over a period of thousands of years.

Aren’t increased Carbon Emissions caused by Volcanos?

A very topical subject at the moment. Volcanoes emit greenhouse gases such as CO2 on what seems like a large scale. The U.S Geological Survey (USGS) reported that volcanoes emit 200 million tons of CO2 per year. Compare this to human activity which emits 24 billion tons of CO2 per year, volcanoes really do not add much to the damage we do. 

Trump, “ice caps are now setting records”

To quote Trump himself, “If the ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now.” Now, this is contrary to 97% of all scientific explanation. Michael Zemp who is the director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service said that glaciers are melting at an extreme rate. So basically Trump is correct in terms of ice caps setting records, but rather they, are setting records in terms of how fast they are melting.  

CO2 isn’t Rising that Fast

It might not seem like much is changing, but looking at this graph shows that since the Industrial Revolution, CO2 emissions have increased at an unprecedented rate due to the start of burning fossil fuels. Not only CO2 but other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide have also been increasing due to an increase in intensive farming practices. Prior to this, annual CO2 emissions from human activity did not significantly impact the environment as CO2 ppm was stable at around 280ppm but as of April 2018, atmospheric CO2 was 410 ppm which is the highest level since Pliocene (3.6 Mya) which had average summer temperatures that were 14 degrees C warmer than they are now. If this doesn’t imply what could come, I don’t know what could.

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Climate Models aren’t Accurate

When people criticise climate models, they tend to be criticising weather predictions. There is a large difference between the two. Weather models predict the current weather whereas climate models have accurately predicted weather trends since the 1960’s. 

If it’s so dire, what’s the point in trying to fix it?

It might seem like there’s nothing we can do, but you’re wrong. The Paris Agreement set out in 2015 is attempting to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and make renewable energy more accessible for developing countries, thus helping to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. It’s not only governments that can aid in reducing climate change, it’s also everyday changes people can make. For example, the nationwide scheme to charge for plastic bags had reduced Englands use for plastic bags by 85% since 2015. A reduced amount of plastic bags can prevent plastic in oceans and allows for marine ecosystems to recover. 

If our generation can start to fix the damage we have caused, then future generations can rebuild and regenerate the environment that was once here.

Again, if anyone has any other arguments or points to make, please write a comment and I will do my best to reply.

References:

Cover photo: NASA

First graph: Has Global Warming Stopped?

Second graph: CO₂ and other Greenhouse Gas Emissions