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What are the Geosciences?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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The geosciences include all fields of science that deal specifically with the varying functions of the systems on earth. Geosciences can also be called earth sciences, earth science, or geoscience. The geosciences recognize earth as a unique system because it is the only planet which, to our knowledge, has life forms. While some who study the geosciences take a multi-disciplinary approach to studying our planet, others study Earth systems through a particular field of science.

The best way to understand the geosciences is to understand the underlying sciences that form this field of study. Most of these fields can be extrapolated to study systems not present on earth. However, when these fields apply specifically to studies of the earth, they are geosciences. These include studies of the atmosphere, the ocean, and plant and animal life.

One of the geosciences most important to understanding Earth is geology. By studying rock formations, differentiations in rocks, and rock development, scientists can, with increasing accuracy, date the earth, explain phenomena that affect the earth structure – such as identifying meteors that hit the earth, and make predictions about the further development of the earth and how it may impact human, animal, and plant life. More specific applications of geology may examine the operation of systems like plate tectonics or the way in which volcanoes operate, called vulcanology. Additional studies may include learning more about minerals through the field of mineralogy.

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The geosciences also comprise specific disciplines that study the atmosphere and how it changes. Of these, the most commonly known is meteorology, which studies and predicts weather systems. Climatology examines weather patterns over long periods of time and also evaluates how humans may impact climate, such as the human use of fossil fuels that is creating global warming. Paleoclimatology poses theories about prehistoric weather systems, largely by examining glacier materials. Atmospheric chemistry examines the chemical values that compose the earth’s atmosphere, and forms another branch of study in the geosciences.

The geosciences also rely on the study of plants and animals, biology. Specializations in fields of biology include paleontology, examinations of fossil life forms which can help identify relationships between prehistoric plants, animals, and their environment. Biogeography evaluates the location of species on Earth, and studies how geographic changes in the earth impact plant and animal populations. Geomicrobiology evaluates tiny organisms or parts or organisms and their interaction with things that are not organic, such as rocks and minerals.

In the geosciences, life is not only evaluated on the ground, but is also evaluated as it exists in ocean environments. Oceanography and marine biology evaluate living systems in the ocean, and subsets of these fields may evaluate fossil records of previous ocean life or look at the way rocks and minerals form in ocean settings. Consideration is also given to the attempt to map the ocean floor, which is not completely possible at this point, given that the depths of most oceans are often inaccessible to both humans and machines.

All geosciences, combined with the principles of physics, can be used to form a holistic approach to studying the earth’s systems. They can also help us to define the ways in which we may be able to increase our chances of survival by better understanding all aspects of our environment on Earth.

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