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~ Bob O'Neill ~

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Geology is the study of the earth, from its core, to the land and oceans at its surface, to its outermost layer, the atmosphere. A geologist studies what the earth’s made of, how it formed, what processes occur day-to-day and year-to-year, and even predicts what may occur in the future. As you might expect, a geologist needs to understand many other branches of science, including chemistry, physics, and biology.

As you know, in some places the water, soil and rock at or near the earth’s surface have become polluted because of human activities. For decades, industries got rid of their wastes by dumping them into the environment, and even waste from homes was often disposed of in a way that caused environmental problems. Fortunately, people have become more aware of the effect this pollution has on the environment, and have taken a lot of steps towards preventing further pollution. However, there are still effects from the dumping that took place years ago, and accidents which cause pollution, such as fuel spills, still happen.

My specialty is environmental geology and hydrogeology ("hydro" means water). I use my knowledge of the nature and behavior of soil, sediments, rocks and water, along with various testing methods, to determine:

  • if pollution, or contamination, is present in the soil, groundwater or surface water;
  • how extensive the contamination is (how big an area does it cover and how deep it is);
  • if it’s moving and where it’s going (to someone’s water well, a lake, a river, etc);
  • if the contamination is causing, or could cause, a possible threat to the health of humans or the rest of the ecosystem, and if so, how bad of a threat.

After this, the next step is to figure out how to fix the problem. To do this, I work with a team of engineers to design plans to clean up the contamination, reduce it to a level that won’t cause a threat, or to keep it from moving to a place where it may cause problems. Sometimes this will involve:

  • installing wells and pumping the contaminated groundwater out of the ground, removing the contamination, and returning the clean water to the environment;
  • installing underground barriers that keep the contamination from moving to environmentally sensitive areas;
  • digging a deep trench and filling it with special chemicals that convert the contamination in the groundwater into harmless chemicals as the groundwater passes through it; or
  • eliminating the source of the contamination by digging it out, or by breaking it down into harmless chemicals by adding other chemicals or using bacteria that occur naturally in the environment.

Depending on the situation, there are many other methods that may be used to clean up or "remediate" contamination.

Being an environmental geologist is a great job for someone who is interested in nature, likes to work in the outdoors, and likes to solve problems. It is also very rewarding when you know your work is making for a better habitat for your fellow humans and the other creatures of the earth.

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