18.1: Prelude to Energy and Mineral Resources
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This text has discussed pioneers in the scientific study of geology like James Hutton and Charles Lyell, but the first “geologists” were the hominids who picked up stones, beginning the stone age. Maybe stones were first used as curiosity pieces, maybe as weapons, but ultimately, they were used as tools. This was the Paleolithic Period, the beginning of the study of geology and it goes back 2.6 million years ago to east Africa .
In modern times, an important use of geologic knowledge is locating economically valuable materials for use in society. All items we use can come from only three sources: they can be farmed, hunted or fished, or they can be mined. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, speculation was rampant that food supplies would not keep pace with world demand, and artificial fertilizers would need to be developed . The ingredients for fertilizers are mined: nitrogen from the atmosphere using the Haber process , potassium from the hydrosphere (lakes or oceans) by evaporation, and phosphorus from the lithosphere (minerals like apatite from phosphorite rock, found in Florida, North Carolina, Idaho, Utah, and around the world). Thus, without mining, modern civilization would not exist. Geologists are essential in the process of mining.
1. Semaw, S. et al. 2.6-Million-year-old stone tools and associated bones from OGS-6 and OGS-7, Gona, Afar, Ethiopia. J. Hum. Evol. 45, 169–177 (2003).
2. Laylin, J. K. Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, 1901-1992. (Chemical Heritage Foundation, 1993).
3. Haber, F. The synthesis of ammonia from its elements Nobel Lecture, June 2, 1920. Reson 7, 86–94 (2002).