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1.1: Introduction

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    The average introductory geology student’s perception of geology normally involves the memorization of rocks and discussions of natural disasters, but Geology contains so much more. Geology is the study of our planet, which is vital to our everyday lives from the energy we use, to the growing of the food we eat, to the foundations of the buildings we live in, and to the materials that are used to make everyday objects (metals and plastics). The ideal place to start this course is discussing the methods that are used to better understand our planet, the processes that shape it, and its history.

    Science is not a set of facts to remember. Instead, it is a method to discover the world around us. You are likely already familiar with the Scientific Method but it is worthwhile to review the process. The first step of the scientific method is making an observation or learning the background surrounding the question in which you are interested. This can be done by taking classes on a subject matter as you are doing presently in geology or by simply taking careful notes about your surroundings. Based on your knowledge and observations, you can then make a hypothesis, which is a testable prediction on how something works. A hypothesis should be framed in a way that is easy to test and prove wrong. This might sound odd, but science works to rigorously disprove a hypothesis and only those that withstand the tests become accepted. The wonderful aspect of this definition of a hypothesis is that the testing results in a brand new observation that can then be used to formulate a new hypothesis. Therefore, whether the hypothesis is verified or rejected it will lead to new information. The next step is communication to other scientists. This allows other scientists to repeat the experiment as well as alter it in new and unthought-of ways that can then expand on the original idea. These few steps encompass the vast majority of the scientific method and the career of any individual scientist. As hundreds of related observations and tested hypotheses accumulate scientists can formulate a theory. The scientific meaning of a theory is an explanation for a natural phenomenon that is supported by a wealth of scientific data. A theory is not yet a law because there still may be some debate on the exact workings of the theory or the reasons why a phenomenon occurs, but there is little debate on the existence of what is being described.

    This leads us back to Geology, the scientific study of the Earth. There are aspects in geology that are directly testable, but others are not and geologists must become imaginative in discovering aspects about the earth and its history that we will never be able to directly observe. In this laboratory manual we will discuss the materials that make up the earth (Minerals and Rocks), earth processes both deep inside the earth (Folds and Faults) and on its surface (Rivers and Climate), as well as the theory that helps explain how the earth works (Plate Tectonics). A fundamental aspect of understanding the Earth is a grasp of Geologic Time (the subject of the first chapter), which helps us think about the rate and frequency of geologic events that have formed the planet that we know today.

    Key Terms

    • Absolute Dating
    • Angular Unconformity
    • Carbon-14 Dating
    • Daughter Atom 
    • Disconformity
    • Geologic Laws
    • Geologic Time Scale
    • Half-life
    • Index Fossils
    • Isotope
    • Law of Cross-Cutting
    • Law of Faunal Succession
    • Law of Original Horizontality
    • Law of Superposition
    • Nonconformity
    • Parent Atom
    • Potassium-Argon Dating
    • Radiometric Dating
    • Relative Dating
    • Unconformity
    • Uranium Dating


    1.1: Introduction is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deline, Harris & Tefend (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) .

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