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Earth Sciences

(Bay Area/San Francisco, California - Jeff M. Wang)


- Main Focuses

Earth science or geoscience includes all fields of natural science related to the planet Earth. This is a branch of science dealing with the physical and chemical constitution of the Earth and its atmosphere. Earth science can be considered to be a branch of planetary science, but with a much older history. Earth science encompasses four main branches of study, the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere, each of which is further broken down into more specialized fields. 

There are both reductionist and holistic approaches to Earth sciences. It is also the study of Earth and its neighbors in space. Some Earth scientists use their knowledge of the planet to locate and develop energy and mineral resources. Others study the impact of human activity on Earth's environment, and design methods to protect the planet. Some use their knowledge about earth processes such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes to plan communities that will not expose people to these dangerous events.  


Sunrise over Earth_010322A
[A Beautiful Sunrise over Earth]

- Applications

The Earth sciences can include the study of geology, the lithosphere, and the large-scale structure of the Earth's interior, as well as the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. 

The knowledge gained and the services provided by earth scientists help society cope with its environment in many ways. Their knowledge about the structure, stratigraphy, and chemical composition of the earth's crust helps us locate resources that sustain and advance our quality of life. Understanding the forces in the crust, and the natural processes on the surface allows us to anticipate natural disasters such as volcanoes and earthquakes, and geologic environments, such as damaging mining practices or improper waste disposal, gives us information to correct such practices and design more benign procedures for the future.  Finally, a comprehensive perception of planetary physics will allow us to anticipate major changes in global environmental conditions and control or acclimate to those changes.  

Typically, Earth scientists use tools from geology, chronology, physics, chemistry, geography, biology, and mathematics to build a quantitative understanding of how the Earth works and evolves. Earth science affects our everyday lives. For example, meteorologists study the weather and watch for dangerous storms. Hydrologists study water and warn of floods. Seismologists study earthquakes and try to understand where they will strike. Geologists study rocks and help to locate useful minerals. Earth scientists often work in the field—perhaps climbing mountains, exploring the seabed, crawling through caves, or wading in swamps. They measure and collect samples (such as rocks or river water), then they record their findings on charts and maps. 


- The Four Earth Sciences

Many different sciences are used to learn about the Earth; however, the four basic areas of Earth science study are: geology, meteorology, oceanography, and astronomy. A brief explanation of these sciences is provided below.

  • Geology (Science of the Earth): Geology is the primary Earth science. The word means "study of the Earth." Geology deals with the composition of Earth materials, Earth structures, and Earth processes. It is also concerned with the organisms of the planet and how the planet has changed over time. Geologists search for fuels and minerals, study natural hazards, and work to protect Earth's environment. 
  • Meteorology (Science of the Atmosphere): Meteorology is the study of the atmosphere and how processes in the atmosphere determine Earth's weather and climate. Meteorology is a very practical science because everyone is concerned about the weather. How climate changes over time in response to the actions of people is a topic of urgent worldwide concern. The study of meteorology is of critical importance in protecting Earth's environment. 
  • Oceanography (Science of the Oceans): Oceanography is the study of Earth's oceans - their composition, movement, organisms and processes. The oceans cover most of our planet and are important resources for food and other commodities. They are increasingly being used as an energy source. The oceans also have a major influence on the weather, and changes in the oceans can drive or moderate climate change. Oceanographers work to develop the ocean as a resource and protect it from human impact. The goal is to utilize the oceans while minimizing the effects of our actions. 
  • Astronomy (Science of the Universe): Astronomy is the study of the universe. Here are some examples of why studying space beyond Earth is important: the moon drives the ocean's tidal system, asteroid impacts have repeatedly devastated Earth's inhabitants, and energy from the sun drives our weather and climates. A knowledge of astronomy is essential to understanding the Earth. Astronomers can also use a knowledge of Earth materials, processes and history to understand other planets - even those outside of our own solar system.




[More to come ...]


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