Friday, 28 January 2011

What is it about Geology which interests me?

Last night on the gogglebox I stumbled across the last episode of a series called Men of Rock on BBC2. I'm sad to have missed the other episodes, but will catch them on the BBC i-player. What a wonderfully easy way into the often complex study of Geology. Professor Iain Stewart brings a freshness of presenting mixed with authority. In this programme he looked at the maverick early pioneers of glacial landscape creation theory. We forget, or I do, that just 200 years ago, sceptics poo-pooed a lot of the scientific theories we now take as granted, for mainly religious reasons. One of the mavericks who fascinated me was James Croll, who discovered the whole glacial cylclicic phenomenon. Sadly being a janitor, his theories were accepted but not taken that seriously. These were further developed by Milankovitch as Milankivitch cycles. You can read more about James Croll here:

Above is a geological map of Great Britain and as a child I used to be fascinated by the bandings and the colours, without really knowing what these colours meant. And in that map is basically the history of Britain going back 350 million years as we travel north and west. I think what it is that fascinates me is that geology in a way is the powerhouse of nature. As rocks erode and decay they form soils and growing substrates which are then inhabited by micro-organisms, or pioneering plants, ecosystem then development and eventually habitats. Link all this into aspect, elevation and the chemical composition of the rock and Bob's your uncle we have all the wildlife we all love in our countryside. Understanding the geology and soils in an area improves any wildlife experience as the vegetation will influence the wildlife and vice versa.

I've studied geology (and geomorphology) off and on since schooldays. In my first year at University we spent 10 weeks cutting microscope slides of various rocks and under high magnification, the minute minerals are just superb to look at, like jewels in a sea of crystals. Better than any artwork. It was worth going to University just for that.

So next time you are wandering over fields or through woods, remember what you are walking on in millions of years old, and will be vital to what you can see around you.


  1. That's a really interesting post, Andrew. Thanks so much for mentioning the Professor Iain Stewart programme - "Men of Rocks". I can't believe I have managed to miss it! I'll try and watch it on iplayer too. His past tv series (and books) have been great.

    I had the loan of a microscope and box of rock section slides on one of the Open University geology courses I took a few years back. You are so right about the beauty of the crystals and minerals - I used to spend hours and hours looking at them. They used to remind me of the view you get through one of those childrens' toy kaleidoscopes - only a thousand times better!

  2. I love rocks. I like to look at them, collect them etc. I know little to nothing about them but I find them facinating. I have an old microscope but I have never looked at rocks with them. I might give that a try.

  3. Hi Ragged Robin, ahhahh a fellow geologist then. I'm pleased you've seen the crystal phenomenon in a microscope slide, they are stunning.

    Hi Lisa, some of the best meomories I have of holidays and places I've visited come from rocks on a shelf in the study. Bring back fond memories