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The earth sciences are those dedicated to the earth and its environs. Earth science museums are most commonly divided by subdiscipline and include museums of oceanography, geology, and meteorology. Museums can also be classified based on their intent as some museums are primarily designed for education of the public and others as research institutions. In addition, earth science museums might be public or private.
Earth science museums frequently devote their collections to a specific branch of the discipline. Exhibits in an oceanography museum focus on topics such as the ecosystem of the oceans, waves, and wave cycles and the chemical composition of seawater. A meteorology museum focuses on weather and weather patterns and might display exhibits about the effects of tornadoes, snowstorms, or hurricanes. A geology museum features rocks and survey maps and might contain exhibits of various types of sediment and rock formations. Other earth science museums might have displays on soil composition, fossils, atmospheric conditions, or agrophysics.
Some museums offer exhibits on several or all of the branches. In addition, other types of museums may contain earth science exhibits. This could include museums of biology, chemistry, or anthropology. Earth science museums are often local or regional, meaning that they focus on the science affecting the area or country in which they are located.
Many earth science museums are open to the public and are designed to educate people. Exhibits are usually mounted with explanatory text or audio presentations that describe the contents in a way that the average person can understand. Guided tours are often an option.
In some cases, however, museum collections are intended primarily as a resource for research professionals. This means that some or all of the collections are only accessible by researchers. In these museums, exhibits are limited and generally include little in the way of display.
Ownership is a major differentiator of earth science museums. Many are owned publicly, such as by a governmental agency. In this case, the museum is most likely open to the public and run on a not-for-profit basis, though an entry fee may still be charged, and donations are most likely accepted.
Privately held museums are usually controlled by nonprofit agencies, businesses, or individuals. College museums may be public or private, depending on the ownership of the college. Private museums may be for-profit entities and may restrict entry based on museum membership.