The future of Geoscience

A few decades ago we found stiff competition between the Americans and the Russians, as is always the case, with regards to drilling. The result was the Kola super deep well which extended 12 kilometres into the crust and has been recorded as the deepest artificial point on the earth. Extensive geological and geophysical studies were completed and knowledge of the subsurface at great depth was gained. This facility has unfortunately closed, but very recently a well of approximately 12 kilometres was also drilled into the Shaheen oil field in Qatar. Is there a resurgence of deep drilling? Will we find more work into the core in the future?

Within this train of thought comes a substantial amount of work which relates to the mantle and transitions zones between magma and crust. The drilling at depth was motivated by the discovery of the Mohorovicic discontinuity and possible study thereof. Due to the inability to reach this transition zone an extensive amount of theoretical and non intrusive work has been undertaken in order to develop a better understanding of the subsurface at great depths. This geophysical knowledge has spilled over into other fields and aided greatly in exploration work. The refinement of this knowledge is always improving our understanding of the subsurface without extensively harming the environment. It is hoped that one day we can actually reach the Moho plane and remove all doubts with regards to theories and ideas about the discontinuity.

On the other hand, and also a complete extreme, we have delved into the realm of space and satellite applications. The use of these remote sensing tools to ascertain the shape of the earth and better understand processes has led to fields such as hydro geodetics being formed. Furthermore newer satellite missions hope to quantify soil moisture and ocean salinity. This leads one to believe that the future of geological science is not necessarily firmly on the ground. Maybe we should have our heads up in space and take a look at the earth, from a different perspective.

Very recently NASA has expanded its programme to take a keen interest in other planets like Mars. The understanding of processes under these extreme environments can help us to realise the possible limits to which we can test the application of new technologies. Furthermore the studying of the surface of the red planet has heralded the discovery of erosional formations associated with water. Could this mean that we will be living on Mars in the near future? These very scientists are also making other remarkable advances. A prime example is the recent discovery of another planet outside our Solar system. Interestingly enough they have concluded that this mass is also rocky and not gaseous in nature. Could this mean that there is extra-terrestrial life out there?

On a micro- scale we find the advancement in the field of material science. This seems completely unrelated to geoscience on the surface, yet the mineralogical aspects of the metals studied are so closely linked to numerous aspects of geology as we know it. The use of materials, which are mined, in order to further develop and advance our technologies, and put our rockets into space, are a critical component of knowledge based economies. This knowledge is also spear heading the revolution on nano- science and transforming the way we look at the world around us. The investigation of materials at such a small scale will definitely have major implications on the way we explore, extract and inevitably use the resources we mine.

This nano- science is also changing the way we look at the environment. A prime example is the use of nano- tubes for desalination instead of reverse osmosis. This seems to be more cost effective and have a lesser impact on the environment. This trend has taken the focus for most research as people have realised that we only have one planet and we as humans have to minimise our footprint in order to preserve the state of our planet for future generations.

This small scale examination of the environment has even spilled over directly into soil science. The use of advanced techniques, like Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging, has led to a greater understanding of the complex interaction between roots and the soil. Results have shed light on water movement in the vicinity of the rhizosphere and lead scientists to believe that vadose zone hydrology is more complicated by the inclusion of roots. New discoveries like this make the forefront of earth science research a great place to be. It is even more exciting when one is directly involved in altering the common train of thought. Being at the cutting edge of research is what we all dream of. These micro particles are also present in the atmosphere in the form of aerosols. Research into migration and the implications of emissions have taken the forefront. This is due to the fact that climate change is heating up as a research topic and the amount of literature and political leverage focused around this study area is set to change the way the public looks at the environment. Greater awareness of environmental impacts has now lead to cleaner energy and so many other environmentally friendly practices, as previously mentioned. A new generation of organically fed children see the world in a different light. These young people are the change we want to see in the world and are increasingly aware of the impacts we have on the environment. Many of them are also involved in multiple initiatives, such as Greenpeace and fair-trade, and carry out their duties with passion and vigour. In some cases they even put their lives and those of others at risk in order to halt what they see as a major environmental impact. Could this be the era of the environmental counter terrorist?

In line with all of these micro-scale scientific advancements we see the increase in the use of microorganisms. This has taken the forefront in remediation of environmental disasters as a sustainable option. Biological indicators have also been used for water quality and to trace the flow of groundwater through fractured media. Biogeochemistry has developed out of this integration and changed the way we explore for resources and examine erosion processes. It will be extremely interesting to see the way this amalgamation of sciences will steer the body of knowledge and transform the way we view geological science in general.

I would like to believe that the geosciences are steering business and politics in a direction of ethical and environmental responsibility. This is evident from all the protocols, legislations and conventions which numerous countries are entering into. The fact that many nations are coming to the table and talking, as well as implementing environmental restrictions, bodes well for the current mind set of modern leadership. Large multi nationals are also investing money into Corporate Social Responsibility programmes. This has been heralded by the release of auditing protocols, like King III, which dictate good business practice. Therefore we can see that even accountants, lawyers and politicians are becoming environmentally aware and attempting to implement sustainable development in the corporate world. In the end...the future of geoscience is going to be a great place to be. Where it will go we do not know, but we need to help shape it in some way.


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