In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Environmental Geology

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • The Anthropocene

Environmental Science Environmental Geology
Ellen Wohl
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0072


Environmental geology involves application of geological knowledge to the investigation of processes occurring at or near Earth’s surface in order to mitigate natural hazards and minimize environmental degradation. Environmental geology commonly focuses on four primary components. The first involves identifying and managing natural hazards, including earthquakes, floods, hillslope instability, soil erosion, subsidence, volcanoes, and wildfires. The second primary component of environmental geology involves managing use of natural resources such as minerals, soil, and water. A third component involves managing energy sources such as coal and oil to mitigate hazards and enhance sustainability. The final component relates to managing disposal of wastes such as radioactive materials or excess nutrients and investigates contaminant dispersal through erosion and deposition. Environmental geology has largely developed as a subdiscipline within geology since the 1970s, although research related to natural hazards, in particular, dates to the founding of geology as a discipline during the 18th century. The first textbook of environmental geology was published in 1982 by an American author, and courses in the subject are now widely taught in universities within the United States and throughout the world. Some of the components of environmental geology overlap with engineering geology. Engineering geologists apply geological knowledge to engineering in order to ensure that geological factors are recognized and accounted for when designing, siting, and constructing infrastructure such as roads and buildings. Engineering geologists assess potential geological hazards such as hillslope instability, erosion, and flooding, which creates overlap with environmental geology. In practice, many individuals engaged in these fields consider themselves to be both environmental and engineering geologists.

Reference Works

Reference works on environmental geology are notably lacking. Alexander and Fairbridge 1999 provides a thorough and useful encyclopedic treatment of the topic, although many entries are now dated.

  • Alexander, D. E., and R. W. Fairbridge, eds. 1999. Environmental geology. Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. The Netherlands: Springer.

    Encyclopedia with 374 entries from acid corrosion to zoning regulations; entries written by experts in the topic; provides short overviews of diverse aspects of environmental geology.

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