The best geologist is the one who has seen the most rocks. This quote by Herbert Harold Read (1889–1970) may sound somewhat of a cliché. However, in a world of computerized technology where rock records are readily accessible via the Internet and analog databases, actually going out in the field and looking at outcrops or present-day geological processes is somewhat overlooked, but nevertheless important. Lathrop and Ebbett (2006) emphasized how essential field trips are in developing a proper sense of space, scale, and time. Fieldwork provides the training ground for understanding geological concepts and theories of how the earth works, which is critically important when we attempt to understand the ‘hidden’ subsurface.
Much of our understanding of the subsurface comes from interpreting seismic and well data. Too many times we are trapped in an office behind workstations interpreting seismic without stopping to ask what this seismic wiggle actually represents. Is it a geological feature that is the height of the Eiffel Tower? Does the reflector I’m mapping really represent a single geological time line? Are these faults actually discrete or are they associated with a broad damage zone? The ability to make this connection with the subsurface is improved by going out in the field. It helps bridge the gap in scale and understanding between seismically resolvable features and real-world geology. This was emphasized by the self-evaluation survey results of Bentley (2009), who asked ‘How do you learn geology best?’ Before going on a field trip, 45 percent of those polled said that listening to formal lectures was best, whereas only 24 percent suggested that going on a field trip was the way to go. However, after the field trip the overall consensus was that field trips were equally as important as lectures for learning geology.
An accurate record of observations in the field in the form of notes, sketches, photographs, and maps, provides the foundation for developing ideas and testing different interpretations. Geology, unlike most other sciences, is a field science that does not provide a precise answer or a single interpretation. In fact, only by formulating different hypotheses and objectively evaluating them can we produce a sound, scientific basis for our interpretations. Our ability to do this is bolstered by spending time in the field. It’s no surprise that geologists who spend time in the field, understanding the structural and stratigraphic relationships of rocks and geological processes, are those that are best able to see the geology in seismic data and fill the gaps between these and well data. Geology first originated in the field and, when we are stuck in understanding the subsurface, we venture back to field analogs — where it all started.
So, whether you are planning the next team-building event for the office, a trip for your local geological society, or an afternoon stroll on the beach, keep the rocks in mind.
This essay was written by Aruna Mannie, Nicholas Holgate and Chris Jackson.
Bentley, C (2009). Touring and exploring: the role of field trips in geology education. MSc thesis in Science of Education, Montana State University.
Lathrop, A and B Ebbett (2006). An inexpensive, concentrated field experience across the Cordillera. Journal of Geoscience Education, 54 (2), 165–171.