Students Dig Earth’s History in Geology Class
Geologists are passionate about their field, which is studying the history of Earth as recorded in rocks. At ACC, students can take geology classes at any campus, with expanded offerings at the Round Rock Campus.
ACC has transferable geology courses for science and non-science majors – students should check their degree plan to select the right course for their degree plan. They may also contact a campus advisor or the Physical Sciences Department at (512) 223.3295 or 223.6002.
Associate Professor Peter Wehner recently answered some questions about why people come to love geology.
Tell me what students don’t know about geology.
Professor Wehner: Most students are familiar with the disaster side of geology: earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, etc. But, many don’t realize how geological processes impact their lives here in Central Texas.
In Environmental Geology (GEOL 1305), we explore how the region’s water supply is intimately tied to its geology and show how this relationship makes our water supply particularly vulnerable to overuse and pollution.
In Physical Geology (GEOL 1403 w/lab), we take field trips to see firsthand how the landscapes of Central Texas are governed by the local geology. Many students are surprised to learn that landscapes do not develop randomly but are controlled by the rocks under their feet.
Why do rocks matter?
Professor Wehner: Scientifically, they tell a story. We can reconstruct the past by simply recognizing how and where rocks form. For example, the rocks beneath the Austin area tell us that 100 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, Central Texas was covered by a shallow tropical ocean similar to the Bahamas of today. It’s neat to think that where we stand today, dinosaurs may have been frolicking on the beach!
Aesthetically, rocks can be beautiful. Gemstones are mined from rocks, and many of us have kitchen countertops made from slabs of polished rock. We are drawn to rocks.
Practically, they are under our feet! We build homes on rocks, extract materials needed for our modern world, and tap them for our energy needs. They have always been integrally tied to our society and culture; remember we used to live in rocks – caves!
What is geology besides rocks?
Professor Wehner: Studying geology is studying the history of the Earth. The rocks are the pages upon which the history of Earth is written. But, like learning another language, it takes time to understand how to read it. ACC’s Historical Geology (GEOL 1404) course tells the story of Earth. But it also teaches students how to “read” the rocks and interpret what they tell us.
Who should take a geology class at ACC?
Professor Wehner: Anyone willing to see the familiar with new eyes. Many geologic events such earthquakes, floods and volcanoes seem to occur randomly and without warning. However, ACC’s Natural Hazards and Disasters course (GEOL 1301), places these events in a larger and less mysterious context. But disasters are only part of the story. Almost unnoticeable processes are constantly shaping our local landscapes and the planet as a whole. ACC’s geology courses reveal the secret “life” of the Earth.
What do you do to make geology interesting to students?
Professor Wehner: I try to keep it local and familiar. Because many geologic processes happen so slowly that they go unnoticed in our lifetime, it helps to use local examples to which students can relate. For example, it’s hard to talk about geology without discussing wonders like the Grand Canyon or Mount St. Helens, but we can see similar structures locally, such as the Balcones Canyonlands west of Austin and even Pilot Knob south of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport – Austin’s own volcano!
Who ends up falling in love with geology?
Professor Wehner: Anyone with an inquisitive mind. Many of the folks I know who have a passion for geology are simply curious – they are trying to understand why the Earth looks and works the way it does.
Prof. Wehner has been interested in rocks since the fifth grade when he dreamed using small submarines to collect rocks from the ocean floor. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Earth Science from Milliersville University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in geology from Vanderbilt University. He is a licensed professional geoscientist in Texas, and has taught geology, earth science, and astronomy at Austin Community College and Southwestern University in Georgetown over the last 15 years.Back to Top