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Studying Earth’s Past

Barringer Meteroite Crater

• Arizona desert
• Almost 1 mile wide
• Asteroid hit Earth
40,000 yr ago
• Catastrophe
The Early Study of Geology
• How do mountains form? How old is
Earth?
• 1788 - James Hutton wrote Theory of
the Earth after over 30 years of
studying rocks
Uniformitarianism
• (uniform = “same”, -ism = “a belief in”)
• The same geologic processes that shape
Earth today have been at work during all
Earth’s history
• Geologic change is gradual
• Rock broken down into smaller particles 
rock particles carried downstream  rock
particles deposited and new layer of
sediment forms (make new rock over time) 
new rock raised to form new landform cycle
repeats
• Like hair growth because hair grows
Catastrophism
• (catastrophe = “disaster”, “-ism” = “a belief
in”)
• Geologic change happens suddenly
• Earth’s surface is shaped by rare, sudden
events (asteroids, volcanic eruptions)
• Like a hair cut because it is a sudden event
that causes a great change
Uniformitarianism vs
Catastrophism
• Erosion (movement • Asteroids
by wind, water, etc)
• Deposition (rock is
laid down)
• The Rock Cycle • Volcanic Eruptions
(Igneous,
Metamorphic, and
Sedimentary rock)
• “The present is the
key to the past” • Change happens
• Change happens suddenly
slowly
Modern Geology

• A combination of
both ideas . . .
• Most geologic
change is slow and
uniform
• But catastrophes
that cause sudden
change also
happen every once
in a while
Paleontology
• The study of past life
• Not just dinosaurs!
• Data collected is called fossils
(remains of organisms preserved by
geologic processes)
Fossils
• A record of what once
lived on Earth
• Made from the
remains (shells,
bones) of a dead
organism
• Or made from the
signs (footprints) left
by an organism that
once lived
• Provide clues to how
the Earth has changed
• Provide clues to how
living things have
changed
Review
• Word used to describe the changes on
Earth as happening slowly and
gradually?
– Answer: Uniformitarianism
• What do paleontologists study?
– Answer: Fossils
• What’s an example of a catastrophe?
– Answers: Asteroid, Major flood, Volcanic
eruption