Structural geology is a subfield within geology which focuses on the study of geological structures, with the goal of learning how, when, and why they formed. There are a number of applications for structural geology, ranging from determining where valuable mineral resources might be buried to assessing land to determine whether or not it is safe to build on. Practitioners in this field usually have a bachelor's degree in structural geology, and they may have pursued graduate work as well.
A structural geologist examines geological phenomena, looking specifically for signs of deformation which show the kinds of stress put on the rock as it formed. Deformation can reveal the angle of stress, the origins of the stress, and its intensity, with the geologist also examining the composition of the rock. By looking at how things form and change over time, specialists in structural geology can draw a number of conclusions which may be used to gain a deeper understanding of geology.
In some cases, structural geology is concerned with the history of the Earth. The study of plate tectonics is a form of structural geology, using deformations in existing rock structures to follow the movements of the Earth's crust. Structural geologists can draw connections between similar geologic formations, explore the conditions which must have been present when various geological features formed, and learn about ongoing geological processes such as mountain formation.
Economically, structural geology is very important. Understanding the process of geological formation and being able to analyze deformation patterns can allow geologists to identify geologic features which may hold pockets of economically useful minerals and resources such as petroleum. Structural geologists also assess geologic risks, ranging from sinkholes to volcanoes, which could be of concern to communities and developers. A structural geologist can also be called in after an accident or geologic event to examine what happened and why it occurred, with the goal of preventing property damage and loss of life in the future.
Structural geology can take place in the field, with geologists making site visits to examine formations of interest personally, and in the lab. Structural geologists use a variety of equipment in the work, including computers for complex calculations, spectrometers to determine the mineral content of rock, and satellite or aerial photography to get a broad view of an area of interest. Because the scale of structural geology can be so large, the ability to step back and get a sweeping view is critical to fully understanding the geological processes at work in a given area of the world.