Introductory geology courses have the unfortunate nickname of “Rocks for Jocks.” The reality couldn’t be further from the truth—earth science is an incredibly complex field that encompasses subjects as diverse as volcanoes, oceans, minerals, fossils, climate, sediments, earthquakes, petroleum exploration, rock chemistry, and atmospheres, just to name a few. 

Each of these has innumerable sub-disciplines on complex processes that interact with processes in other sub-disciplines. Tangible evidence of the breadth of the field can be seen in the attendance record of the American Geophysical Union fall meeting, the largest earth and planetary science conference in the world: in 2014, there were 24,920 attendees!

One of the perks of having a geology background is the ability—nay, the justification—to travel to some pretty incredible places for work and learn about the global geology. Here are some pictures from geology trips I’ve been on:

One of the peaks of Mount Unzen on Kyushu Island in Japan. A series of volcanic eruptions from Mount Unzen from 1991 through 1994 devastated nearby villages, destroying nearly 2000 homes. (2011)

Shear fractures (mini-faults) in the iron-rich sandstone of Utah. The broken-up lines each represent a depositional layer of sediment. (2010)

Aerial view of Meteor Crater (also known as Barringer Crater) near Flagstaff, Arizona. This impact crater occurred only 50,000 years ago and is a little more than 1 km (3/4 mile) across. (2015)

Hiking the active lava flows of Kileaua at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. My face matches the color of my vest because the lava behind me is 2200°F. (2011)

One of the moving rocks of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park, California. For decades, how they moved was a mystery, but recent work shows that they glide along the playa surface via ice rafting. (2011)

Mount Stromboli during a sunset hike at the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Italy. The volcano has been erupting nearly continuously for 2000 years. (2013)

Part of what I love about geology is that I can go to a place I’ve never been before, observe it, and have at least a basic understanding of how the landscape came to look the way it does. Being a planetary geologist, I have the same feeling when I look at a picture I haven’t seen before of a planet, asteroid, or moon!