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Artistic License – Geology

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"At least one of our xenogeologists quit in a rage when research started on this region. Instead of having conventional polar ice caps, and in violation of all physical laws we know of, the continental plates of Hoxxes rest on top of a planetwide permafrost layer several miles deep. As always, DRG recommends a "don't ask" approach when dealing with the peculiarities of Hoxxes' makeup."

A Disaster Movie features an earthquake, volcano or some other ground-based phenomenon and does it in a relatively entertaining way. Then the Fridge Logic hits that Geology Does Not Work That Way. It doesn't always spoil the film — sometimes only an expert would know, or sometimes the viewer doesn't catch on until after the movie, but it sure can get on your nerves.

Artistic License Geology is the catch-all term for where a work shows a geological phenomenon, but does so inaccurately.

For earthquakes, for instance, fissures do not chase B actors or swallow entire cities whole without a trace. For volcanoes, outrunning the lava flow in Real Life can be as easy as picking up your pace to a brisk walk, but you can't outrun the pyroclastic flow — the heat, ash, and gasses ejected from the eruption — and you might not even be able to outrun it driving a car, since a pyroclastic flow can hit 700 kph. The primary characteristic of mudslides is that they're inexorable. They may be fast or slow, but they simply don't stop, and they are not easily diverted by such flimsy things as walls, barricades, trees, or buildings. They just pick 'em up and carry on.

In addition to quakes, volcanoes, and mudslides, this trope also covers any abuses of the field of geology including getting rocks, minerals, or whole processes wrong. In particular, lots of games have "diamond" weapons or armor, assuming that, since diamond is hard, it must be very durable. In fact, diamond crystals have perfect cleavage in four directions and are therefore quite brittle: scratching a diamond is hard, but breaking it is not.

This is the supertrope of California Collapse, Gold Is Yellow, The Lava Caves of New York and Lava Pot Volcano. Compare Artistic License – Biology (with which it shares the subtrope Artistic License – Paleontology), Artistic License – Physics. Contrast Shown Their Work. See also All-Natural Gem Polish.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Code Geass, when the F.L.E.I.J.A. bomb is deployed it leaves a 1300 meter-deep crater, but the now exposed terrain is uniform and absent of geological layers. It's possible the weapon burns the exposed earth to a uniform appearance, but that appearance is regular soil brown.
  • The world of DARLING in the FRANXX uses something called "magma energy" as a power source for everything from houses to Humongous Mecha. Beyond being extracted from underground it bears little resemblance to magma. Turns out to be justified: "magma energy" is actually harvested energy beings.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Jaburo is an Elaborate Underground Base built in a natural cavern underneath the Amazon rainforest... Which shouldn't be possible, since the entire Amazon basin's earth is made of 4,000 metres of sand and soft clay, with virtually no rocks.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Comics: Many old stories have characters visiting Subterranea, a land located at "the center of the Earth." The place was later retconned as being a cave system not far from the surface.
  • The Warlord (DC): The Magical Land realm of Skartaris is located in the center of a Hollow World Earth as a tribute to the Pellucidar novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  • Superman: In The Super-Revenge of Lex Luthor, the eponymous villain builds a weather-altering machine which starts a new ice age, and the people of Metropolis treats the possibility of glaciars burying their city as an immediate concern instead of a future threat (the fastest glacier in the world only advances up to 40 metres per day).
  • One dinosaur comic has paleontologists find "the most complete T. Rex skeleton ever", and carbon-date it to make sure it's genuine. Carbon dating is not used on objects older than 30,000 years (by then, any radioactive carbon-14 in the sample has decayed to unusable levels); it might serve to rule out the possibility that it's a modern-era replica but there's probably easier ways of doing that.
  • Giantkiller: Mount Diablo is referred to as an active volcano in the first issue. The real Mount Diablo is not a volcano at all, but was formed in the past couple million years by the folding and faulting of the earth's crust.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Volcano has the titular feature pop out of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles — while the area is tectonically active, the faults are not the type that generate volcanoes, being too far below the surface. The LA Basin as a whole has no volcanic features newer than a couple dozen million years.
  • Dante's Peak, a dueling movie with Volcano, made more of an attempt to be accurate but still pick and chose things to be dramatic (the USGS has a detailed response somewhere). For example, there is fluid lava during what is otherwise a large explosive eruption (the two are not absolutely exclusive, but they are highly unlikely to occur together at the scale the movie shows), and there's a pyroclastic cloud chase scene where the vehicle has way too little lead time.
  • Congo: The volcano part has many geologic sins (diamonds in basalt, etc), but often gets faulted for one part that's actually accurate; the speed of the flow. The Congo is the only place in the world where lava actually can move at freeway speeds due to its consistency (think mud bath, only it would melt your face instead of cleansing your pores).
  • Earthquake is guilty of this for the magnitude. The quake in the film hits a 9.9 on the Richter scale, and is judged entirely by the massive damage the quake leaves behind in Los Angeles (something that should actually be left to the Mercalli intensity scale). In real life, not only has a 9.9 earthquake never happened in recorded history (the strongest earthquake ever was 9.4-9.6 in Chile, in May 1960), but it's scientifically impossible for one to strike since rock lacks the capability to build up that much pressure before it gives to the quake. Scientific consensus on the San Andreas Fault (the source for most of L.A.'s quakes) finds that the fault is very limited in trying to cause a mega-thrust quake (quakes at or greater than 8.0 on the Richter scale).
    The magnitude of an earthquake is related to the area of the fault on which it occurs — the larger the fault area, the larger the earthquake. The San Andreas Fault is 800 miles long and only about 10-12 miles deep, so that earthquakes larger than magnitude 8.3 are extremely unlikely.
  • Waterworld explicitly attributes the Earth's submerged status to global warming, but all the ice in the world melting would produce only a 216ft (66m) rise in sea level, which would suck for low-lying coastal areas, but is not nearly enough to create the ocean planet depicted.
  • Outlander: The protagonists trek through lava-filled tunnels in Norway. The Fennoscandian Shield which makes up Norway's land mass is one of the most tectonically stable areas in the world, and has had no volcanic activity for hundreds of millions of years.
  • 2012 pretty clearly throws any accuracy out in favor of Rule of Cool. It would be easier to list the couple correct bits than the many, many wrong parts.
  • Gamera vs. Zigra: The main villain causes multiple earthquakes. The strongest earthquake in the film does a lot of damage, but most buildings are still left standing. This earthquake is said to have a magnitude of 18 on the Richter scale — More than 100,000,000 times more powerful than the strongest earthquake ever recorded. Such a quake is impossible and would rend the earth apart.
  • The Core was written entirely with Rule of Cool in mind. Some of the events made it clear that the writers had checked geology books while writing, but the plot makes it easily clear they were completely willing to throw it out when it got in the way of making a ship that went through the mantle like a submarine or death ray gaps in the magnetic field.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: The destruction of the Ring is accompanied by Mount Doom erupting... but it has both lava flows and pyroclastic explosions, while in reality volcanoes generally only have one or the other. Of course, the eruption is the death throe of a demonic sorcerer, so most likely A Wizard Did It.
  • Robin Hood (2018) has mines located directly across the river from Nottingham where the locals seem to be mining and smelting iron. This seems incredibly unlikely as Nottingham is built upon sandstone.
  • Blood Diamond: Danny Archer plans to sell a number of large diamonds, each at least 10 carats, to a diamond company where they will be processed in India and "become like any other diamonds," and plans to do the same with a large pink diamond found by Solomon Vendy. The colour, shape and crystal structure of a diamond reveals its origin, so they would still be identifiable as African and thus possibly sourced in a conflict zone (which they were, in the Sierra Leone civil war). Additionally, India specialises in small diamonds only. It's also very strange for a multinational diamond corporation, large enough to be invited to a G8 summit, to bother with a single, albeit large, diamond, as most of their product would be melee, or medium diamonds of a half to two carats (similarly, the mercenaries are being paid in diamond mining concessions, so they should have no reason to chase after one diamond, though Colonel Coatzee suggests he's doing it because It's Personal). However, the filmmakers did extensive research on the subject, even opening their own diamond mine, and it shows.

  • Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth (and its many movie remakes and retellings) is a prime example of this. Verne was more concerned with following the Rule of Cool in this book than the current scientific understanding of the interior of the Earth. His narrator in this story, Axel, is a geology student, and is continually lampshading how utterly impossible what they are doing should be, with his explanations being consistent with 19th century geologic theories, and they still stand up pretty well.
  • There is a The Hardy Boys novel wherein the boys experienced a powerful earthquake that lasted about a minute and threw them off their feet. We later find out that the quake measured "between 3 and 4 on the Richter scale." As any Californian could tell you, you might not even notice a tremor of that magnitude, especially if your attention was focused on something else at the time. And if you did notice it, your first reaction would not be "Yikes, earthquake!" but "That must be a pretty big truck."
  • The Flood series has the Earth flooded by water from the mantle, loosely based on research that has shown that the deep crust is downright saturated with water and hydrogen gas, trapped by layers of impermeable rock above it, according to samples from the Kola Superdeep Borehole. That there's enough of it to flood the planet with 50-60 km of water, or indeed have any way of escaping to the surface en masse, is certainly less than likely — the research that Baxter cites at the end refers to a mass of water-bearing rock, in which the actual water is a small percentage of the rock and trapped within the crystal structure of the minerals making it up, as well as in minute pore spaces (although amusingly enough, the research paper author said he'd been getting letters and e-mails from people asking him if it was the water from Noah's Flood). There's no way for it to physically come up to the surface in a huge flood.
  • Very common in Cthulhu Mythos stories. While some elements such as islands rising from the sea floor might be justified under Rule of Cool, Science Marches On, and/or An Eldritch Abomination Did It.
  • In Wither, the first book of The Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren De Stefano, North America is the only land mass remaining because the government destroyed the other continents with some super weapon, so a only a few small, uninhabitable islands remain. The destruction of all the other continents has no ill effect on North America or the environment in general.
  • The volcanic island of Dragonstone in A Song of Ice and Fire is said to have soil so poor that the inhabitants rely on the sea for most of their sustenance, something that infuriated Stannis Baratheon when he was made its ruling lord. But volcanic soil is actually very fertile, which should mean that Dragonstone would have a far easier time growing their food than catching it.
  • Lampshaded in the Iron Druid Chronicles the druid Atticus Sullivan made a deal with the Native god Coyote to 'move some earth'. He finds out that this involves him magically placing a gold vein in a specific location where Coyote wants a mine to be built. He protests that while he can do this, it would be geologically impossible for gold to be found in that location. It would be so unprecedented that geologists all over the world will question the basic principles of the science. Coyote does not care.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle's story The Terror of Blue John Gap (described here) has the semi-precious stone Blue John occurring in the wrong part of Derbyshire.
  • Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" misuses the term "carbuncle", as it's actually a term for red garnets cut in a particular style. Given that this is Victorian England we're talking about, a gemstone famous enough to have been named, and the jewelry trade, that it has an incorrect name isn't necessarily an error of research.
  • Above the Timberline takes place in a world where runaway tectonic disruptions (and an ice age caused by magnetic pole reversal) caused an apocalyptic societal collapse that took mankind 1,500 years to recover from. One scientist character describes how "Earth's mantle spun faster than its crust, causing plates to break loose and float above the magma," cracking along fault lines and crashing around like bumper cars. The resultant global geography is so scrambled that special exploratory teams are dispatched into the wilderness with the sole purpose of blindly stumbling around and hoping to encounter the ruins of old-world cities like Washington D.C. or Paris. Needless to say, this is not how plate tectonics works in the real world.

    Live-Action TV 


  • In the miniseries 10.5, a volcano erupts without any hint of activity and a ground fissure chases a train, and the very title is not possible, among many others.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Fires of Pompeii", the Doctor and Donna outrun a pyroclastic flow, which at their slowest usually move at around 700 kph.
  • In one Steptoe and Son episode, the pair try to hawk a zircon to a half-blind fence as a diamond, figuring that he won't be able to see that it's fake. However, he "tests" it by smashing it with a hammer. This test wouldn't work in reality; a diamond would break at least as easily as a zircon.
  • Wonder Woman (1975): Paradise Island didn't appear on any map for inadequately explained reasons. It remained separate from Man's World despite the fact that in "The Feminum Mystique" the Nazis could and did sail directly to it. No one discovered an idyllic island of super strong, beautiful amazons just because, well...they didn't.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: The lightning-fast cloud of ash and smoke from Orodruin is disastrous, but not nearly as bad as a real pyroclastic flow would be—they reach temperatures in excess of 1000F and instantly incinerate any organic matter caught in their path. In other words, None of the characters that survived should have survived, realistically speaking. (For a historical reference, it was the pyroclastic flow and not lava that caused the massive loss of life in St. Pierre after the eruption of Mt. Pelee.)

TV Movies:

  • The made-for-Sci-Fi-Channel movie Magma: Volcanic Disaster. Volcanoes without precursory activity? Check. Fast moving lava? Check. Lava in places not normally found (such as above the actors head's when inside a tunnel)? Check. Among other things.

  • Daler Mehndi's Tunak Tunak Tun music video shows major depressions in the Indian Ocean when the Earth is viewed from space.
  • In "Visions of Paradise", The Moody Blues refer to "blue onyx". Onyx is a form of chalcedony and while other chalcedonies do come in blue, onyx does not.

    Video Games 
  • Colossal Cave:
    • This game has a volcano in a limestone cave system. While here's nothing preventing a volcanic intrusion from occurring in an area with caves, which might cause magma to enter the cave system, it would not create an actual volcano. Another problem is that because of the presence of the hot magma, the limestone should have recrystallized as marble, or melted to become a calcic igneous rock.
    • Unlike most computer games set underground, the trope is averted in the very first version which was a fairly accurate simulation of the real Bedquilt Cave in Kentucky, with a few fantasy elements thrown in. Later versions (including the first complete version, finished by Don Woods) included more fantasy and magic, including the volcano, but the actual cave layout, being described by an experienced caver, is still quite accurate to the real place.
  • The mines of the Story of Seasons games. Even discounting the one set in a semi-active volcano, you have mines where you can find gold, silver and copper, along with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds on the same level. Older games at least tried to pay lip service to reality by having the precious gems and metals in different mines, but that was abandoned in favor of streamlining.
  • Largely averted in Dwarf Fortress except for some minor issues with Convection, Schmonvection and some dwarves being tough enough to drown in the lava before being burned in it. Though the mantle being rather thin and the core of the planet being both significantly larger and made of hyperdense stone 25 times as heavy as pure iron and full of demon-stuffed caverns is probably against some geological concepts.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Throughout the series, quite a few crafting materials and ores have real world names, but have vastly different properties. A recurring one is Ebony, depicted as a rough black ore which can be melted into dull, malleable ingots, which can in turn be crafted into either glassy black armor or dull grey-black weapons. In the lore, it's said to be a super-durable glassy substance with mystical and holy properties. Real life ebony is a type of wood. Numerous other examples are described under the Fantasy Metals trope.
  • Golden Sun: The world is simultaneously based on our own (during a different geological era) and yet is flat with water constantly falling over the edges (no word on giant turtles). Landmasses are apparently afloat on the oceans, as evidenced by a tidal wave at the beginning of the game that causes Weyard's version of India to slam into Australia in minutes, resulting in... very little damage, actually.
  • Deep Rock Galactic: One of the many reasons Hoxxes IV is such a fucked up planet is that it explicitly violates several laws of physics with its geological processes. The subterranean sandstorms and massive chunks of floating earth are one thing, the gigantic layer of permafrost below the continental plates that yet manages to still have a molten core is another thing entirely, that has made more than one xenogeologist throw the towel and quit the entire company.
  • Minecraft: In-game, obsidian is one of the hardest materials in the game to the point of being invulnerable to any amount of explosives - in real life, obsidian is very brittle and prone to fracturing, and is by no means the super-stone it is depicted as in-game.
  • Soundtrack Attack: Downplayed. Unlike the Quartz's and Pearl's wide variety of selections, the Ruby's colors are mostly reds and pinks, to match the show, which adheres to real-life gem color schemes. However, she also has multiple orange palettes and even separate brown and purple ones; not only are these inaccurate to the show itself, but in geology, a ruby that is not red is instead called a sapphire.
  • The ClueFinders 5th Grade Adventures: The Secret of the Living Volcano: Invoked. The island is apparently floating, yet is also actively volcanic. The characters question how this is possible. As it turns out, That's No Moon — it's an alien spaceship.


    Western Animation 
  • In Costume Quest, nougat is a candy mineral that is mined straight from the ground, to the point that the town of the main characters is a Company Town based around it.
  • In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) episode "Turtles at the Earth's Core" the Turtles meet dinosaurs from "beneath the Earth's core". Since the core is, by definition, at the center of the spherical Earth and thus at the point where the planet's gravity pulls to, there's no such thing as beneath the core — pass the core and you'll simply start digging up in the mantle on the other side.
  • Ben 10: Iron/steel, or "bicenthium alloy", is stated to be exceptionally rare anywhere except Earth. This despite iron being the sixth most common element in the universe. Apparently they didn't realize why Mars was red, either.
  • In the Bojack Horseman episode "Underground", Mr. Peanutbutter's house (and only that) is swallowed up and buried by a giant sinkhole due to doing too much fracking next to his house. While fracking is associated with earthquakes (see Earthquakes Cause Fissures), there's no way fracking can cause a huge, highly localized sinkhole like that, though some kinds of subsurface mining can cause subsidence.
  • In Early Man the Bronze Age civilization seizes the Tribe's land to mine the bronze deposit under it. Bronze is an alloy.

Alternative Title(s): Artistic Licence Geology