‘Just because they are gneiss, does not mean that you can take them for granite’

gneiss and granite are rocks and that is supposed to be a joke.

Many of us have imagined a world without healthcare workers. Some of us have even gotten a glimpse of it when doctors went on strike. Without physicians and nurses, the health care system of the world will collapse, and the mortality rate will increase. But what would happen to the world if all the Earth Scientists or Geoscientists decide to go on a strike forever? Will the mortality rate increase? No, but the extinction rate will. 

Earth Scientists, in my opinion, are underappreciated and underrated in the scientific world. They are perceived to be neither glorious like biologists who are concerned with curing cancer or making vaccines nor intelligent enough like physicists who study quantum mechanics.

As someone once said, one never realizes the importance of something until it’s gone, you may not understand the work and need of geoscientists until you imagine a scenario where they are nonfunctional.

As an undergrad Earth Sciences student, I always encounter questions like what earth sciences are, what exactly do I study and what are my career prospects. My friends are confused about my weird fascination with stones and maps and sometimes they refuse to believe that I use the hammer for rock sampling only. In general perception, geoscientists are thought to be unruly people whose hobbies include getting dirty and going on risky journeys and who are obsessed with rocks for no apparent reason. 

The world without geoscientists will struggle with energy resources exploration and exploitation. Geologists and geophysicists locate and evaluate fuel sources like coal, oil, and natural gas from the rock record. At present, we are still dependent on fossil fuels for energy as the renewable resources alone are not yet enough to satisfy the world’s energy demand. So, no one to study rocks can equate to no more adequate supply of energy.

However, there is a plot twist, geoscientists not only deal with the non-renewable resources but also with renewable resources like geothermal and hydroelectricity.

You may think that solar cells and wind turbines can provide temporary help, but they are built up of the resources extracted from the earth. At that point, nuclear energy will seem to provide a solution but unfortunately, it produces radioactive waste. Of all the nuclear waste disposal methods, storage in deep geologic formation is currently the most feasible one. Without geoscientists, you can have piles of nuclear waste and only one life to think about the other disposal options. Moreover, the world without geoscientists will be at risk of plunging into the darkness. With no fuel and electricity, modern civilization will be unstabilized. 

In the short future, the world will recognize the need for mineral resources like iron, copper, lead, gold, building stones, silica, clay, and many others. These minerals are typically used in industries and building structures. Silicon, which is used in computer chips, is primarily obtained from quartz which is found in rocks. Without geologists, it is going to be difficult to locate mineral resources.

In the next few years, there will be more frequent wildfires, tropical storms, droughts, sea-level rise, melting ice, and unbearable temperatures. The geologic record is the sole record we have of past climate longer than a few thousand years and comprehending how the Earth responded in the past is critical to anticipating future climate change impacts.

With no experts available for climate and global process modeling, there will be no one to predict and warn about climate change, the global climate may continue to change.

There will be no one to minimize the risks of earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, and other natural disasters. Geoscientists examine the processes that cause these hazards, provide crucial expertise for assessing the type of hazards and the frequency of occurrences in each location, make risk maps, and assist in the engineering of structures that can survive such disasters. 

With the energy crisis, economic losses, and natural disasters going on, the world may run out of adequate water supply and food resources. Hydrogeologists locate and assess water resources and provide critical expertise to prevent contamination of groundwater and surface water, develop and carry out strategies for cleaning up water supplies if they become contaminated.

Geoscientists also conduct important evaluations of the surface and near-surface processes that affect soil quality and provide long-term soil management strategies that are necessary for food production in the future.

After all these catastrophes, humans may desire to shift to Mars or any other planet but for that, they will need planetary geologists. Even the entire exploration of Mars is based on analogies with earth. But the worst will be yet to come. The global political system can change as fewer resources lead to human violence and wars.

But all these disastrous occurrences can be prevented by acknowledging the need for Earth Sciences and inspiring the young generation to study it.

Geoscientists may not decide to go on a strike altogether, but their number can decline. With the current global problems, for instance, climate change, sustainable use of water and land resources, environmental degradation, and the need of exploiting new raw materials, there exists a great need for Earth Scientists. However, the number of graduates in Earth Sciences is decreasing and some of those who graduate don’t continue their career in it. The reasons for this are diverse ranging from less awareness of youngsters about geosciences to less funding of Earth Science departments worldwide to unstable job prospects. Interestingly, an article published on Nature discusses the current dilemma by stating 

‘Earth sciences are fundamental to tackling climate change, natural hazards and the energy transition, yet universities worldwide are putting geoscience departments on the chopping block- right when they are needed most’. 

Written by Alizeh Asif