by Miles Traer
As we kick off this new season of Generation Anthropocene, I thought that I’d take some time to answer some of the most queried questions on Google about geologists. Specifically, I tackled the question, “Are geologists…” followed by every letter of the alphabet and the resulting autofill question. Unsurprisingly, some of the letters hadn’t been searched enough for autofill to work. And yet, some letters yielded some of the strangest questions I’ve ever heard about geologists. Without further ado, here are my attempts at answers:
Are geologists… Able to drill to the center of the Earth?
In a word, no. The center of the Earth is roughly 3,959 miles (6,371 km) down. The deepest hole that was ever drilled was the Kola Superdeep Borehole, at 7.6 miles (12.26 km) deep. That’s 0.19% of the way to the center of the Earth.
The Kola project was funded by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and drilling proceeded from 1970 all they way to 1992 when the project was shut down. In true scientific fashion, their goal was simply to drill as far down as they could just to see what they could find. What they found was that as they drilled, the heat and pressure made drilling really difficult. The hole kept collapsing as the hot rock got, for lack of a better word, squishy. Still, there were some pretty cool scientific discoveries made and some perplexing questions raised.
Before all of this, and despite the lack of any real knowledge of what Earth’s interior looked like, John Quincy Adams, the former president of the United States, once ordered a mission to the center of the Earth using tax payer dollars whose aim was at least in part to contact the mole people who lived there. I really REALLY wish I was making that up.
Are geologists… Better than engineers?
Yes. Next question.
Seriously, sometimes it’s difficult to make the distinction between geologists and engineers. Here at Generation Anthropocene, we define “geology” pretty loosely in that we include geophysics, atmospheric physics, ocean science, and others under the umbrella of “geology.” We realize that might make some people angry, but that’s how we feel. To make the kinds of measurements that geologists require for their work, they often have to design new technologies or adapt existing technologies (including everything from ATVs to satellites).
Are geologists… Coming?
Nope. I’m not gonna touch this one.
Are geologists… Different?
How about we expand this question to say, “Are geologists different than other scientists?” If that’s the question, then the answer is both yes, and no. Damn, I thought by changing the question, it’d make it easier to answer.
Geologists are scientists, so we use the same approach as all other scientists in our research. First, we ask an answerable question, then we devise a research plan around that question, conduct experiments, gather data that helps us answer the question, and report the results and conclusions that can be linked back to the data. In this way, geologists aren’t any different than other scientists.
BUT, geologists are sort of different in that we have to combine a lot of different sciences in our work. Geologists who study climate change have to be chemists, computer modelers, physicists, oceanographers, and mathematicians. Geologists who study evolutionary trends have to be biologists, statisticians, and chemists. It’s a really cool area of study because you have to be a bit of a Jack/Jill of All Trades.
Are geologists… Engineers?
Sort of. See the above question asking if geologists are better than engineers.
Are geologists… Famous?
Definitely. Charles Darwin is the best example of a famous geologist. While we just pissed off the entire biology community, Darwin described himself as a geologist. So yeah, we can be pretty famous.
Other famous geologists include: Walter Alvarez (who, along with his father, discovered the meteor impact that killed the dinosaurs), Inge Lehmann (discoverer that Earth has both a liquid outer core and a solid inner core, and recent Google doodle subject), Harrison Schmidt (Apollo astronaut), Stephen Jay Gould (author), Grove Karl Gilbert (apart from having an awesome name, he worked hard after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to figure out what had caused it, leading him to map the San Andreas fault for the first time), Charles Richter (creator of the Richter Scale of earthquakes), and Alfred Wegener (first to propose continental drift, a theory that later evolved to plate tectonics).
Are geologists… Happy?
Sure! We get to spend our time investigating stuff in some pretty exotic locations. We work all over the world. We work with other people who love what they do. We work to solve big problems and answer big questions.
A recent pole reported by The Guardian shows that geology students are the happiest among all the majors at UK Universities. So yeah, we’re a happy bunch.
Are geologists… In demand?
Geologists are always in demand. We’re in demand here on Earth whenever earthquakes occur, whenever we need to solve geological mysteries, whenever we look at climate change and try to answer “are we screwed,” whenever we need to learn about the odd history our our cities, and whenever we need to determine the rocks underlying our favorite Game of Thrones characters.
Geologists also find themselves more and more involved in SPACE. That’s right, there are geologists on nearly every NASA and ESA team right now helping us learn more about Mars, Venus, Saturn and it’s moons, and comets.
Are geologists… Kardashian’s of science?
If you mean, “are geologists longing for the spotlight to get the damn rightful attention that we deserve!” … then… yes.
Are geologists… On trial?
Are geologists… Plates?
No. Geologists are people. Plates are huge and broken slabs of basalt and granite floating atop an ocean of convecting molten rock.
As an aside, the theory of plate tectonics is surprisingly young. Like, REALLY young. Here is an incomplete list of people older than the theory of plate tectonics:
Bill Gates, Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Katie Couric, Conan O’Brien, and the current president of the United States, Barack Obama.
Are geologists… Rich?
Some are. Industry pays well for geologists. Turns out that the gem and petroleum markets are still doing pretty well.
Are geologists… Scientists?
I can’t even… YES! GEOLOGISTS ARE SCIENTISTS!!
Are geologists… The sexiest man alive?
Not sure why Googlers are limiting this one to men, so let’s branch out and ask, “are geologists the sexiest man/woman alive?” We’re rugged, tanned from spending weeks in the sun, wear plaid, are well-traveled, use words like “uplift” and “orogeny,” know how to use a pick axe, and know the distance to the nearest bar/pub even when we’re so far off the grid that GPS doesn’t even work.
Are geologists… Well paid?
Hmm… a lot of questions about how well geology pays as a profession. Again, sort of depends on what you do. But yeah, you can be pretty well paid as a geologist.
Are geologists… Xena: Warrior Princess*
I mean, we do carry around sword-like objects and wear protective gear that one might mistake for armor. We travel the world and get into adventures. We battle with ancient mysteries and face long odds on a weekly basis and feel that we never got the attention that we deserve. We wish we had names like Lucy Lawless, but we’re also pretty proud of cool geologist names like Tanya Atwater, Octavio Barbosa, Luna Leopold, and Katia Krafft.
From time to time, the fate of the world seems to rest in our hands, though mostly that just happens in Hollywood. We do battle with evil and tempestuous nay-sayers and gain the respect of creative-types.
We are well versed in combat, provided the battle is waged between humans and aluminum cans containing tasty adult beverages.
So, yeah. I’d say geologists are a lot like Xena: Warrior Princess.
* note: Google autofill doesn’t currently have an entry for “Are geologists… X…” BUT if we all search for “Are geologists Xena: Warrior Princess”, I think we can make it happen. So have at it!