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Why rocks matter: the geology of natural resources

The Earth beneath our feet records over 4.5 billion years of history in which a range of mantle and crustal processes have shaped Planet Earth as we know it today.  We often take this for granted, but our everyday lives are shaped and controlled by our geology.  For example:

  • Fossil fuels provide us with the energy that we need for heat, light and transportation. In order to manage this resource in a sustainable manner, geologists are central to ensuring that as much hydrocarbon as possible is extracted from a reservoir through careful observation and interpretation
  • As we move to a more carbon-neutral economy, the Earth’s crust is being used for gas storage, and in particular as a repository for CO2. Geologists provide knowledge of rock physical and chemical properties that ensure that these gases can remain locked in the subsurface
  • Rock and mineral extraction provides us with the raw materials for many of the materials we take for granted, including building stone and road stone. Geology can have a fundamental control on the engineering of major capital investment projects, such as HS2.  At a smaller scale, mobile phones use gold, platinum and rare earth elements in their manufacture- geologists use their understanding of the Earth to find and extract these metals.
  • Water is essential for life, and yet in many parts of the world, natural water supplies are limited by climate, drainage and human contamination. Geologists and environment scientists are central to mapping the distribution of aquifers and ensuring that harmful contaminants do not enter subsurface water resources, or are effectively removed.

Often geologists have to use very small datasets to make economically important decisions, which may affect the political and economic health of a community, country or region. To inform these decisions they must work in teams, using creativity and scientific skills that cross the physical, chemical and biological sciences.  Often they use high-end information technology to assist in their interpretation; at other times they might work in remote regions of the Earth.  Often they are responsible for the health and safety of their teams, which are typically culturally diverse; geology is a truly international science.


About this workshop

This workshop will focus on the importance of the Earth’s crust in resourcing the materials we need to maintain the lifestyle we have become accustomed to.  We will discuss how we find and produce the natural resources that we need for energy, transportation, materials, communication and medicine.

In particular, we will discuss how fossil fuels are generated, explored and exploited. From here, we will think about how we can use that knowledge to manage our carbon budget and move to a more balanced, and sustainable, energy supply in the future.  We will also consider the economic aspects of mineral and oil exploitation and undertake a competitive mining exercise to see which team can make the most money out of mineral extraction.



Geology: a science that deals with the history of the earth and its life especially as recorded in rocks.

Natural Resources: Something, such as a forest, a mineral deposit, or fresh water, that is found in nature and is necessary or useful to humans.

Mantle: the part of the earth between the core and the the crust is the MANTLE. It is about 1,800 miles(2,900 km) thick and makes up nearly 80 percent of the Earth’s total volume.The mantle is made up of magma and rock.

Crust: the outer layer of the Earth, between the surface and the mantle, which is up to 40 miles deep.

Fossil Fuels: a fuel (such as coal, oil, or natural gas) formed in the earth from plant or animal remains.

Global Carbon Budget; The global carbon budget is the amount of carbon gained and lost in the natural and manmade workings of the world. … The study of the carbon budget is essential for understanding how carbon dioxide emissions, both natural and manmade, are contributing to the changes in the Earth’s environment in the present day.


Cathy Hollis

Cathy Hollis is a Reader in Petrophysics and Production Geoscience and heads up the Carbonate research team within the Basin Studies Group.


She leads a collaborative research programme between Universities of Bergen, Bristol and Liverpool (PD3) and also collaborates with Texas A&M University and Aix-Marseille University.

Cathy joined the School after a successful career in the petroleum industry working for Badley Ashton and Associates Ltd and Shell International Exploration and Production. She is President of the Manchester Geological Association and often leads fieldtrips to the Carboniferous of northern England.


The Carbonate group conduct multi-scale studies, and spend much of their time in the field. Currently there are students working in the UK, mainland Europe, North Africa and Canada.

The carbonate team work closely with the North Africa Research Group in Morocco.

  • Why rocks matter: the geology of natural resources
    8th March 2018
    9:30 am - 1:00 pm

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