Subject Areas

Geology is an over-arching term for a diverse range of different fields of study. These fields focus on a more specific aspect of the Earth or the solar system (such as volcanology or sedimentology) and use aspects of mathematics and the other sciences. For example, palaeontology overlaps extensively with biology and remote sensing uses physics to investigate the Earth above and below ground.

Below is a list, with short descriptions, of some of the major fields of study within geoscience.

Engineering geology

A broad discipline encompassing the construction of buildings and dams, slope stability, mine and quarry design, tunnelling, roads, railways, coastal defences and many other aspects of the built environment.

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Environmental geology

The application of geological principles to mediating or solving environmental problems of water and land in or on which people, animals and plants live, that resulted from human activities or natural processes. 

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Explores the chemical composition of rocks and fluids and the chemical processes operating within the Earth and on its surface.


The study of determining the age of rocks, fossils and sediments. Absolute geochronology uses radioactive isotope systems, whereas relative geochronology uses palaeomagnetism and stable isotope systems. 

Geomorphology / Surface Processes

The scientific study of the origin and evolution of features formed by chemical and physical processes on or close to the Earth's surface.


The study of the physics of the Earth, such as its internal structure, earthquakes, gravity and geomagnetism. It can be deep (aiding understanding of the Earth’s core) or shallow, helping to survey archaeological sites. Geophysics is used to search for oil and mineral deposits.


The branch of geology concerned with underground and surface water, its movement, behaviour and quality.

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Igneous Petrology

The study of igneous rocks that formed from magma or lava.

Metamorphic Petrology

How rocks are affected by heat and pressure to produce the range of metamorphic rocks and minerals. 

Natural hazards

The features and effects of phenomena such as earthquakes, landslides, floods, volcanoes etc. and the importance of forecasting, resilience and minimisation of damage.

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Natural resources

The major sources of energy are oil, coal and natural gas, but uranium and alternative sources such as geothermal energy are also areas of employment for geologists. Mining and quarrying are used to extract metals and minerals with applications from agriculture to high-tech industry.

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Includes ocean chemistry, ocean floor geology, meteorological oceanography and the study of climate change, as well as ocean waves and currents.


The study of fossils, from dinosaurs to microorganisms. How organisms are preserved in the rock record, and their importance as indicators of past environmental change.

Planetary science

The study of the geology of other celestial bodies (such as planets and asteroids) in our solar system and beyond.

Remote Sensing

The use of aerial sensor technologies to detect and classify objects on Earth by means of imaging from satellites or aircraft. This is useful in many fields, from exploration for resources to geological mapping of the Earth or other planets or monitoring geological hazards.


The study of sediments, how they accumulate, how they become sedimentary rocks, information they provide about past environments and their significance to energy and other resources.


The study of seismic waves passing through the Earth from earthquakes, explosions or controlled sources, which can be used to predict earthquake hazards, map planetary interiors or explore for resources.


The study of the order, nature and rates of change of geological events and processes. This is related to geological mapping of rocks exposed at the Earth's surface. Stratigraphy helps to determine the ages and field relations of rocks to construct geological maps and databases.

Structural geology

Concerned with rock movement and deformation by folding and faulting, including the study of plate tectonics. How rocks respond to stress, both natural and man-made.

Unconventional energy

This sector includes geothermal energy, wind power and tidal power. Sustainable energy sources is a growing area.

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The study of volcanoes, their location, formation and prediction, types of eruptions, and the sorts of rocks produced, plus associated hazards/societal impact.