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Environmental Science and Engineering

Washington State_111220A
[Washington State - Forbes]

Don’t Try To Change Everything at Once, 

But Do Begin With Something Important.


- Overview

Humans have always designed the environment around us. From the earliest needs of wetland drainage and access to fresh water, to keeping water flowing and clean enough to drink, to building sumps to carry away waste and stop contamination of vital waterways, we have always strived to maximize our sanitation and living conditions to expand and survive. 

Sanitation is an essential part of the development of our civilization. Without it, we would die more frequently from waterborne diseases, increasing mortality rates and reducing our quality of life. Therefore, we always need to find bigger and better ways to remove sewage, purify water sources and use natural or artificial water supplies to protect our health and the environment. 

Since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, we have needed to prevent businesses and individuals from polluting the environment with harmful substances. Modern environmental engineers work to keep our air and water free of pollutants, promote good health, and, today, radioactive and toxic materials; they also study the potential impact of climate change and other environmental factors on infrastructure.


- Environmental Engineering vs. Environmental Science

Environmental science and environmental engineering share some basic similarities. First, and perhaps most importantly, both fields of study are concerned with the natural environment and its relationship to the human world. Both environmental scientists and engineers are concerned with data collected from the natural environment, especially data about past and future impacts of human activities and their impacts, to design and implement solutions to various problems. 

Beyond that, however, the paths are starting to diverge, although it's fair to say they are complementary and likely have the same end goal. Like any scientist, an environmental scientist is usually responsible for conducting research on a specific project, collecting data provided by the natural environment, and focusing on a specific problem, such as environmental degradation and the impact of human activities on a specific area. Environmental scientists can then analyze this data and further provide recommendations to be implemented to facilitate change or achieve future benefits. 

Here, environmental engineers step in. Once the data is available (analysis and the scientist's recommendations), the engineer can begin to apply his or her knowledge of engineering and environmental science to plans and solutions. His or her actions may include planning new infrastructure to limit the impact of human activity on a particular space, or even developing plans to ensure that particular areas are rapidly developed for human use. 

Ultimately, these two fields of study can largely be understood and distinguished by related terms: science and engineering. Specifically, an environmental scientist will work like any other scientist, collecting and analyzing a set of data to provide answers to certain questions. And, by contrast, an environmental engineer will use a range of engineering principles to develop a plan of action using information provided by scientists. Of course, both fields of research are concerned with the same ultimate goal of answering questions or providing solutions to problems related to the environment, which again highlights the significant overlap between the two.


- Earth System Science (ESS)

Environmental science is the study of how natural and unnatural processes affect the environment. It includes the study of systems, which are sets of components that interact and function as a whole. The Earth system is a class of systems that includes the Earth's climate, atmosphere, land, coastal areas, and oceans.

Earth System Science (ESS) is an interdisciplinary discipline that seeks to understand the Earth as a complex, adaptable system. ESS studies how humans affect all parts of the Earth, including the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and solid parts of the Earth.

Environmental engineering is a field that combines environmental scientific methods with engineering principles. Environmental engineers develop and implement infrastructure, technology and industrial operations to reduce environmental pollution and the risk of contamination.

The lines between earth sciences and environmental sciences are becoming increasingly blurred. The modern way of looking at Earth is to see it as a complex system in which the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, atmosphere, and anthroposphere are all highly integrated and interdependent.


[Vienna, Austria]

- Geoscience, Environmental Scince and Engineering

Environmental engineering is an interdisciplinary field with the common goal of understanding, predicting, and responding to human-induced environmental change. It is a multidisciplinary field of engineering science that combines the biological, chemical and physical sciences with the field of engineering. Environmental engineering is a discipline of engineering that deals with the prevention & control of water, air, and soil pollution. 

Environmental scientists work to address environmental issues such as global warming, stratospheric ozone depletion, and local and regional air and water pollution. This work requires perspectives from different scientific disciplines, including atmospheric physics and chemistry, oceanography, glaciology, hydrology, geophysics, ecology and biogeochemistry.

The earth system is a complex set of chemical, physical and biological interactions, which is further complicated by various activities of human society. By exploring the underlying processes and feedbacks within the Earth system, and employing a range of approaches from theory and modeling to experimentation and observation, we train undergraduate and graduate students to think about environmental processes in an integrated way, preparing them to manage the environments we face challenge.

Research in environmental science and engineering is strongly interdisciplinary, with many connections to Earth and planetary sciences and other science and policy programs. 


The Fusion of Geoscience, Environmental Science and Engineering

The National Academy of Sciences report on environmental engineering in the 21st century identifies five grand challenges to sustainably supplying food, water and energy; curbing climate change and adapting to its impacts; designing a future free of pollution and waste; creating efficient, healthy, resilient cities; and promote informed decision-making and action.  

Solving many grand challenges requires the fusion of environmental science, engineering, and earth science. These three fields are interdisciplinary in nature and they naturally intersect with each other. 

Geoscience or earth science studies the dynamics of the Earth's different spheres. One of its missions is to probe the availability of mineral, water and fuel resources for sustainable development, with discoveries in the areas of "the co-evolution of life, environment and climate" and "biogeochemistry and the water cycle in terrestrial environments and their implications". The National Research Council's "Global Change" opens up new research opportunities. 

Environmental science and engineering focuses on areas that intersect with human activities. Environmental science focuses on understanding the transport of naturally occurring and anthropogenic pollutants in the environment and their impacts on ecosystems and human health, and environmental engineering focuses on developing technologies for water supply, mineral exploration, and environmental restoration to mitigate adverse impacts.

[More to come ...]


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