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Panta rhei – the present of geology

Geological discovery of the Carpathians: the past being the key to the present and the present – to the past. read more

Geological discovery of the Carpathians: the past being the key to the present and the present – to the past.

Geology is commonly considered to be the science of the past. Children at school are taught a simplified geologic time scale which goes back several hundred years. All geological processes, even the history of Homo sapiens are presented as being extremely slow and virtually imperceptible to the human eye. However, it appears that the key to understanding the history of our planet is the observation of contemporary geological processes which, contrary to what may seem, are not as slow and imperceptible.

One the basic rules in geology is uniformitarianism which says that chemical and physical processes taking place inside the Earth are similar or identical with the processes which took place in previous geological periods. Thanks to this assumption it is possible to reconstruct geological history from observations of contemporary processes. In other words the present is the key to the past...However, there is a “but”. This principle can only be applied to the period when the Earth was already in its present-day form with atmosphere, oceans, continental and oceanic crust and not to the period when it was in the initial phase of evolution as the processes which took place then have not yet been fully understood although their effects can be observed in very old rocks.

Is it possible to observe geological processes? With a little knowledge, dedication and imagination everyone is able to see for themselves that geological processes are taking place and changing the Earth before our very eyes. Why don’t we try to observe contemporary geological processes?

The Carpathians provide an opportunity to observe a large number of phenomena which prove uniformitarianism to be correct. Numerous streams and rivers enable us to study both erosion and uniformitarianism. The formation process of deposits which fill up river channels can be observed here - the accumulation of globally important gas and oil deposits from previous geological periods can also be found in similar deposits. Stream capture which takes place in Brama Wilkowicka or on Borek mountain pass provides us with information about the formation of waterway network. Other examples including mass movement, slides and downhill creep demonstrate mechanisms which govern the mechanism of slope formation and terrain morphology. Sandstone monadnocks which can be found in Gorce, among other places, are a good example of erosion. The geomorphology of the Tatras, in turn, provides a great deal of information about the activity of mountain glaciers. The examples given above are the simplest examples of uniformitarianism. However, its implications can be far-reaching and the past could be the key to the future. It does not mean that we are released from the responsibility of looking after our planet but we should approach the information announced in the media carefully.

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