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Geology of Rome, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Rome is the capital of Italy and its geology is complex. To understand the geology of Rome, it is important to first understand what the definition of geology is in general. Merriam-Webster defines geology as “a science that deals with the history of the earth and its life especially as recorded in rock” (Geology, n.d.). Rome’s rich ancient geological history is recorded in its vast and varied rock and sediment formations and mountain terrains.

The Concise Encyclopedia’s definition of geology is the “Scientific study of the Earth, including its composition, structure, physical properties, and history”, and includes the study of the Earth’s chemical makeup, minerals, rocks, the Earth’s structure, volcanic events, land formation processes, fossils, and sedimentary strata development (Geology, n.d.). In this paper, we see how Rome’s geology is a result of evolution and movement in the areas of the Earth’s structural metamorphosis over several hundred million years.

As stated above, the geology of Rome is highly complex, and this is largely a result of a series of volcanic eruptions, occurring over the past million years, along a chain north of Rome in recent geological history.

Additionally, Rome’s Apennines Mountains formed as a result of iconic rises in the sea level over 100 million years ago when Italy was mostly an ocean floor as opposed to a flat terrain. The sediments of the ocean floor layers are seen in the sedimentary succession of the Apennine Mountains as limestone and sandstone deposits (Speronews, 2008).

The geological environment of Rome is a result of 3,000 years of naturally-occurring, earth-changing events such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and landslides, and the significant exposure of Rome’s sedimentary successions (Giordano & Mazza, 2010). These sedimentary successions give a thorough look into Rome’s geological history which includes the Earth’s surface processes in the area and sea level changes that have affected the history of life in Rome, as well as the way Rome’s geology has evolved over time.

The McGraw-Hill Science & Technology Encyclopedia states “Sediments also provide a record of crustal deformation (folding and faulting) and of large-scale horizontal motions of the Earth’s lithospheric plates (continental drift)” (Stratigraphy, n.d.). Therefore, Rome’s open exposure of its sedimentary successions give a history of how its rock was progressively changed through time due to formation, deformation and recrystallization processes deep within the Earth’s crust and then exposed at its surface due to erosion and uplift (Stratigraphy, n.d.).

Geographically, Rome is located between the Apennine mountain chain and the Tyrrhenian Sea on the western coast of Central Italy, along the Tiber River. The open and planar areas surrounding Rome are mainly a result of tectonic and volcanic evolution during the Quaternary period (Cenozoic Era), which led to the transition of its marine environment to a continental environment during the Lower Pleistocene period of the Gelasian & Calabrian ages on the geological time scale (Giordano & Mazza, 2010).

According to Giordano & Mazza (2010), the formation of Rome’s geology dates back to the Pleistocene period, beginning 2.5 million years ago (International Chronostratigraphic Chart, 2012). In this time, four active volcanic districts were instrumental in Rome’s early formation, due to the eruption of magma and the placing of ignimbrite sheets.

Additionally, during the last glacial age in ancient times, a significant amount of ignimbrite sheet erosion and a significant rise in sea level resulted in Rome becoming a geological environment dense with clay and sand sediments. Giordano & Mazza (2010) further state that the Holocene age (the end of Pleistocene period) is the period of time that produced the rise in sea level to its present level by “the filling of the Tiber river valley with its alluvial deposits.” Because of this, it was necessary for the Romans to dig various tunnels and major and minor aqueducts to drain the waters, and this is responsible for the current-day regulation of the lake level at 70 meters below the crater rim.

Much of Rome’s early formation is due to large movements in the Earth’s crust, which effectively caused considerable structural depression in the layers of the Earth. The Tiber River, where Rome is situated, is one of the largest in Italy and runs parallel to the Apennine Mountains from Tuscany to Ostia (Dembskey, 2009).

The Apennine Mountains are a key structural feature of Italy and are mostly made of sedimentary rocks, deposited as a result of ancient sea level changes which pushed the rocks up to the surface of the Earth. These sediments have morphed into caves, called Karst, due to being dissolved by acid rain over time. Over 8,000 kilometers of Karst are contained in Apennine Mountains (Dembskey, 2009).

Another key feature of Italy is the Tiber River, in Rome and also the hills west of this river. It is significant because it shows that Rome was once beneath the sea, as evidenced by the discovery of marine mudstones and sandstones that date back a million years. During this time Rome was susceptible to many volcanic eruptions that spewed volcanic ash deposits that dammed the river and this was instrumental in the development of the terrain in Rome.

Many Tiber river basins over the last 20 million years, due to the Tyrrhenian coastal plain being pulled apart by naturally occurring events, has caused river basins to subside and fill with an overflow of debris that was washed down by the rains and the flooding coming down from the Apennine mountains, and also from volcanic eruptions during that time. This caused sedimentary deposits above and below sea level and this contributed to the varied sedimentary rocks in Rome (Heiken, Funiciello & De Rita, 2005).

Over time, Rome went through both significantly dry periods of time and wet periods of time, and thus became susceptible to major flooding events, and this “repeated natural destruction of the city may have had a large influence on the superstitious Roman mind, providing ‘evidence’ for the displeasure of the gods, and perhaps the resulting abandonment of the site” (Dembskey, 2009). The ancient Romans were believers in various gods that controlled different aspects of life. This is what modern Roman mythology is derived from. This concept gives some insight into how the geology of Rome helped shape the communities it colonized.

During the time between 312 BC and 226 AD, the people of ancient Rome built aqueducts to control the flow of water into the city, some of which remained intact from the time of the Roman Empire through to the middle ages, and some of them are still in use today. The Roman aqueducts were expertly built and carried large volumes of water (Dembskey, 2009).

There was much development during medieval times along the Tiber floodplain and was a place occupied by Roman theatres, temples and training facilities for the Roman army. All of which had to be repaired after flooding so that homes and businesses could be built.

Urban planning strategies emerged in later generations, and, according to Heiken, Funciello & De Rita, 2005), if the Roman people of that time had followed the planning strategies of their ancestors, then it was noted that less damage would have been realized in the Imperial city. The Romans were continually planning ways to combat the flooding problems in the city. Additionally, Roman roads connected colonies by following along natural terrain creases that formed due to folds and thrust faults, which were slices of rocks overlaid on each other (Heiken, Funiciello & De Rita, 2005).

Heiken, Funiciello & De Rita, 2005, states that “Italy in general and the Apennines in particular have some of the most complex geology in the world” (p. 19), and also that tectonic movements have not changed shape much because the rocks and their locations are the same. The only thing that has changed is how geologists study them. During the 1970s and 1980s Italy’s government implemented the Geodynamics Project to further study the geology of Italy to get an understanding of how its geological history was shaped by natural hazards and geologic resources.

I have a better understanding of the communities of Rome, Italy and its history and how its geology evolved. It is interesting to learn about the dynamics of the formation of the very beginnings of the terrain and below surface structure of the land in Rome.

The current geologic makeup of the city is due to major natural hazardous events occurring over several hundreds of millions of years. The most fascinating information that I have learned about doing this research is the fact that Rome has some of the most beautifully preserved rock and sediment formations in the world. The Apennine Mountains, in Rome, have some of the most magnificently preserved layers of rock that formed from catastrophic environmental events over the millions of years that it took to evolve. The varied landscape of Rome and its limestone and sandstone deposits in the Apennine Mountains are a testament to the history of Rome’s geological evolution and to Italy’s transformation from an ocean floor to the beauty that it is today.

I also learned that these rocks and sedimentary deposits were buried so deep into the Earth that they were not adversely affected by the storms over time and have left a visual view of the Earth’s history in this area. Even a lot of the buildings in Rome and across Italy are built with limestone and marble. The effects of the geological evolution of Rome are seen in its structures.

It is also interesting to me that the rocks have not changed that much in all these millions of years so it is something that serves as an accurate record of time recorded in the rocks.

The geology and topography that I learned about in this research has influenced me to do more research. I will also look at the terrain and the city and the buildings in a different way. It sparks my imagination about what the people must have been like in ancient Rome and this research has influenced me to possibly start searching for fossils and to visit the mountains.

References

Dembskey, E.J. (2009). The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome. University of South Africa Thesis. Retrieved from http://www.romanaqueducts.info/aquapub/dembskey2009Rometxt1.pdf

Geology. (n.d.). The Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/geology

Giordano, G. & Mazza, R. (2010). The Geology of Rome and Urban Areas: the legacy of Prof. Renato Funiciello. Journal of the Virtual Explorer, 36(28). Retrieved from http://virtualexplorer.com.au/article/2010/277/the-geology-of-rome-and-urban-areas

Heiken, G., Funiciello, R. & De Rita, D. (2005). The Seven Hills Of Rome: A Geological Tour Of The Eternal City. Princeton University Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=d0Zk_Vh3J8EC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

International Chronostratigraphic Chart. (2012). International Commission on Stratigraphy website. Retrieved from http://www.stratigraphy.org/column.php?id=Chart/Time%20Scale

Speronews. (2008). Italy’s geologic history is personal tale. Spero News online. Retrieved from http://www.speroforum.com/a/17454/Italys-geologic-history-is-personal-tale

Stratigraphy. (n.d.). Sedimentary Succession. McGraw-Hill Science & Technology Encyclopedia. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 5th ed.

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