President’s Column – March 2010

Title: The Power of the Earth Resource Development, and Earth Science Education
Author: Jerry Cuzella
Publication: The Outcrop, March 2010, p. 5-6

Every so often we are reminded of the power and force that the earth unleashes with little notice, resulting in death and destruction on an unimaginably grand scale. Namely, the two most recent catastrophic geological events are: 1) the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that ravaged Haiti on January 12, which affected approximately 3.5 million people who lived in the area that experienced the most intense shaking, and 2) the December 26, 2004, earthquake of magnitude 9.1 off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia and the accompanying tsunami, which was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history killing nearly 230,000 people in fourteen countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves up to 100 ft high. These geological events, as devastating as they are, come as no surprise. Similar events have occurred before in the earth’s history and will likely occur again.

Geology is a scientific study that reconstructs the history of the earth, its structure and composition, the natural processes that alter its surface, its resources, and hazards. The study of geology provides an understanding of dynamic earth systems, which are a complex of processes and responses constantly at work on our planet. James Hutton and Charles Lyell specified in the principle of “Uniformitarianism,” a fundamental paradigm to the science of geology that processes occurring in the present were the same ones that had operated in the past, and would be the same processes that would operate in the future. Although the study of geology can’t prevent these powerful events like the most recent earthquake in Haiti from occurring, it can help mitigate the extent of devastation and loss of life. The tectonics of the Caribbean and past earthquake history has been widely understood, better preparedness and construction practices based on this knowledge could have prevented some of the devastation. But it takes education of public officials and policy makers in the geosciences to make informed decisions to initiate actions (costs notwithstanding) that could in part, alleviate some of the damaging results to life and property which occur as the result of unwanted, but inevitable geologic phenomena.

On a more perceptible level, many RMAG members are involved in some manner in the quest for beneficial natural resources including oil and gas, ores, minerals, and water, in which case geology is the guiding science. At the heart of this is an extractive industry whose main concerns are to explore, produce, develop, and deliver these resources to a consuming public in an environmentally conscious and economically efficient way. The geosciences play an essential role in providing our developed society with natural resources that are an integral part of our complex economy and way of life. Public policy, laws, and regulations are promulgated to deal with these enterprises by policy makers of diverse backgrounds, who are not necessarily knowledgeable in the geosciences. In turn, these policies will eventually affect the populace who in general, lack an understanding of science and engineering. So often the cry for regulatory policy or proscription is delivered to the public by well-trained voices where it is colored by emotion and unfounded by sound logic and science. Unfortunately, the lack of understanding of the geosciences and the fundamental role the extractive industries play in society results in confrontation rather than cooperation between the advocates for preservation and those for development.

Clearly the geosciences play an essential role in the discovery, development, utilization, management, and preservation of natural resources and how natural processes impact all life on Earth. But it is a cognizance by policy makers and the public in general of the role that geology plays in these matters that can make the difference. Promoting education at the K-12 level is a start to achieving this goal. Preparing students to become better informed citizens and policy makers that are capable of making reasoned judgments falls on our dedicated teachers. Now in its tenth year, the RMAG honors a teacher that actively promotes excellence in teaching of earth science with the “Teacher of the Year Award.” The award consists of a cash award and plaque provided by the RMAG Foundation. March is that time of year when the RMAG K-12 Education and Outreach Committee begins soliciting applicants for this award (application information appears elsewhere in this edition of the Outcrop). Recipients of the RMAG award are encouraged to apply for AAPG’s Teacher of the Year Award. In the past, two of RMAG’s award recipients received the national AAPG’s award with recognition at the annual convention and expo. RMAG members are urged to inform their local school administers of this award and to encourage teachers who teach earth science to apply for it. In this small way we can all become involved in the educational process and recognize deserving educators who make a significant difference and positive impact on our children and future leaders.