What Is Physical Geology?

physical-geology Credit: Mike Beauregard/CC-BY 2.0

Physical geology is the science concerned with examining the true properties of Earth and analyzing it in a way that allows scientists to become more familiar with the planet. Unlike other geological studies, physical geology focuses solely on the materials Earth is made of and the process that bring these materials into fruition.

Physical geology is a foundational science for learning the way that Earth works in accordance with different environmental factors. Physical geologists study Earth by looking at the processes by which the materials function in different environments within the planet. Rocks, minerals, oceans, plates and tectonics are often looked at in this branch of geology. These rocks are identified and listed in order of their importance to the functioning of the planet.

Students of physical geology learn about how the Earth's plates move together to form mountains, valleys and even oceans. Physical geology provides students with an introduction to the way that the plates move, contract and work together to create masses of land. It also helps students better understand the reasons behind natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. Numerous government agencies employ physical geologists, including the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Land Management, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.