The most satisfactory definition of the term ‘environmental geology’ is the study of how humans interact with the geological environment (Woodcock 1994; Bennett & Doyle 1997; Thompson et al. 1998). The subject combines many traditional branches of geoscience including engineering geology, economic geology, hydrogeology and geomorphology with development control, resource management and Earth heritage conservation. The growth of this integrative subject reflects an urgent need to ensure that planned development is accomplished with minimum damage to the environment and that non-renewable resources, in particular construction materials and energy minerals, are used wisely. Practitioners of environmental geology generally acknowledge the need for a whole systems approach in dealing with dynamic physical processes. Examples of holistic approaches to environmental management include river catchment and coastal zone management.
Geoscientists have an increasingly prominent role in the development control process and in environmental management generally. As a consequence, the profession has become more aware of the need to contribute expert knowledge on geoscience to the decision-making process in an effective way (McKirdy 2000). Environmental Assessment (EA) and other environmental auditing techniques are now a mandatory part of the development control process. As a consequence, many planning decisions are largely determined on technical grounds, with the physical characteristics of the site constraining the development options.
In essence, environmental geology is the interface between the study of geology as an academic science and the real world. In the following chapter, human interactions with the physical environment are described with particular emphasis given to the issues that