Befitting a dynamic Earth, the study of Earth science embraces a multitude of subdisciplines. To understand the complexities of Earth, one must see the patterns of complex interaction through the eyes of the physicist, chemist, geologist, meterologist, and explorer. Just as no single agency has the responsibility to collect geophysical datan fact there are hundreds worldwideo single discipline provides the insight to understand or explain all of Earth's complexities.
Moreover, just a cooperation and collaboration are essential for gathering data, an interdisciplinary approach to Earth science is essential to proper evaluation of that data.
At the heart of Earth science is the study of geology. Literally meaning "to study the Earth," traditional geological studies of rocks, minerals, and local formations have within the last century, especially in the light of the development of plate tectonic theory, broadened to include studies of geophysics and geochemistry that offer sweeping and powerful explanations of how continents move, to explanations of the geochemical mechanisms by which magma cools and hardens into a multitude of igneous rocks.
Earth's formation and the evolution of life upon its fragile outer crust was dependent upon the conditions established during the formation of the solar system. The Sun provides the energy for life and drives the turbulent atmosphere. A study of Earth science must, therefore, not ignore a treatment of Earth as an astronomical body in space.
At the opposite extreme, deep within Earth's interior, radioactive decay adds to the heat left over from the condensation of Earth from cosmic dust. This heat drives the forces of plate tectonics and results in the tremendous variety of features that distinguish Earth. To understand Earth's interior structure and dynamics, seismologists probe the interior structure with seismic shock waves.
It does not require the spectacular hurricane, tornado, landslide, or volcanic eruption to prove that Earth's atmosphere and seas are dynamic entities. Forces that change and shape the Earth appear on a daily basis in the form of wind and tides. What Earth scientists, including meteorologists and oceanographers seek to explainnd ultimately to quantifyre the physical mechanisms of change and the consequences of those changes. Only by understanding the mechanisms of change can predictions of weather or climatic change hope to achieve greater accuracy.
The fusion of disciplines under the umbrella of Earth science allows a multidisciplinary approach to solving complex problems or multi-faceted issues of resource management. In a addition to hydrogeologists and cartographers, a study of ground water resources could, for example, draw upon a wide diversity of Earth science specialists.
Although modern Earth Science is a vibrant field with research in a number of important and topical areas (e.g., identification of energy resources, waste disposal sites, etc), the span of geological process and the enormous expanse of geologic time make critical the study of ancient processes (e.g., paleogeological studies). Only by understanding how processes have shaped Earth in the pastnd through a detailed examination of the geological recordan modern science construct meaningful predictions of the potential changes and challenges that lie ahead.
See also Astronomy; Chemistry; Earth (planet); Field methods in geology; Geochemistry; Historical geology; History of exploration I (Ancient and classical); History of exploration II (Age of exploration); History of exploration III (Modern era); History of geoscience: Women in the history of geoscience; History of manned space exploration; Oceanography; Physics; Scientific data management in Earth Sciences; Space and planetary geology
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