Deciphering the planet’s secrets

Alan Werner, left, and Steven R. Dunn, professors of geology

By Keely Sexton

Geologists explore the history of the world as it is inscribed on the earth. But decoding the messages takes education, training and experience. Steven R. Dunn and Alan Werner, both professors of geology at Mount Holyoke College, spoke with US News & World Report about the field and its growing importance in the war against climate change.

A solid understanding of a variety of disciplines is key to becoming a geologist, who is often trying to decipher events that unfolded over thousands of years or more, using just a snapshot captured in stone.

“The factor of time, for one thing, does make geology quite a bit different,” said Dunn, who is also the chair of the geology and geography department. “The study of Earth's history requires an approach that you might call forensic science.” 

A sound grounding in liberal arts ensures that the geologist has an arsenal of knowledge with which to answer questions. That study can prepare students by making them comfortable with uncertainty and giving them the intellectual power to solve puzzles with limited information. 

These skills are critical in geology, said Werner, noting that the field itself is of special interest in the current era of climate change.

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