Sedimentology Futures: Geoheritage, Planetary Exploration, and Technology

Marjorie A. Chan - University of Utah

Looking forward, the field of sedimentology and its future must include advances in geoheritage, planetary exploration, and technology.

Of foremost importance, the many diverse landscapes where we conduct sedimentology research comprise our geoheritage – the geologic sites or areas with significant scientific, educational, cultural, and/or aesthetic value. Geoheritage sites are vital to advancing knowledge and for understanding geodiversity as well as the biodiversity the land supports. The sedimentary record at many geosites has implications for understanding climate change. Over the last few decades, a rising international geoconservation movement is bringing attention to special geological features with intrinsic value. Sedimentologists need to contribute to good stewardship of important geoheritage sites.

Sedimentology plays a key role in planetary explorations, with the discovery of more sedimentary rocks on Mars and the continuing search for extraterrestrial life. The potential for extraterrestrial life will be enhanced by more studies of microbial life in terrestrial authigenic minerals and their detection as biosignatures. Earth has a life bias throughout over three eons of geologic history, yet analyzing the variability of analogous Earth systems with the sedimentologic context for habitable environments will lead to a better understanding of sedimentary deposits on other planetary bodies.

Finally, technology will continue to change the way we conduct our research from data collection to archiving, processing, visualizing, and sharing. All sedimentology studies can benefit from the use of digital technology, accompanied by open data and more avenues for communicating what our science is about.

The more we can learn from geoheritage landscapes that have strong scientific value, the better we can apply knowledge to planetary explorations. The more we use new digital technologies, the more we can share and make new discoveries. It’s an exciting frontier of sedimentology futures!