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Episodes 2022; 45(2): 173-180

Published online June 1, 2022


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

Geoscience: what remains to be discovered?

Rasoul Sorkhabi

University of Utah, Energy & Geoscience Institute and Department of Geology & Geophysics, Salt Lake City, UT 84108, USA

Correspondence to:*E-mail: rsorkhabi@egi.utah.edu

Received: May 5, 2021; Revised: July 27, 2021; Accepted: July 27, 2021

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Geoscience currently faces critical challenges ranging from declining student enrollments and employment to public perception and research funding. In all these areas, geoscience is understandably competing with other fields. This article reports on the results of a 2019–2020 survey of the major questions and challenges in geoscience. The survey respondents included 136 geoscientists from various disciplines in geoscience. Altogether they suggested 370 questions which are placed under 20 broad topics and described in four categories: (1) geodynamics; (2) climate and life; (3) resources and environment; and (4) community issues (geoscientist workforce, public education and policy). Global warming and the future of the petroleum industry top the list of challenges. Prediction and mitigation of natural hazards, especially big earthquakes and explosive volcanoes, tackling environmental degradation and pollutions of various types, as well as exploration of rare earth elements and energy minerals essential to everyday life are among the practical topics of investigation. Some of the big questions pertain to the most distant geologic past – Hadean and Eo-Archean times (4.5–3.5 Ga) – during which the primitive Earth’s internal structure, crust, atmosphere, oceans, and biosphere formed. Other questions concern those physical parts of the Earth – the mantle and the core – that are not directly accessible to us. Geoscience is far from integrating crustal phenomena and plate tectonics with the dynamics, heterogeneities, and evolution of the mantle. Causes of paleoclimate changes and mass extinctions and the relationships between these two remain fertile fields of research. Extraterrestrial influences such as lunar gravitational stresses, and meteorite impacts should be better integrated into earth system science. Geoscience education and workforce, public perception and support for geoscience, and the role of geoscientists in impacting policies are critical areas of attention and action.