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Earth science (also known as geoscience, the geosciences or the Earth sciences) is an all-embracing term for the sciences related to the planet Earth. It is arguably a special case in planetary science, the Earth being the only known life-bearing planet. There are both reductionist and holistic approaches to Earth sciences. The formal discipline of Earth sciences may include the study of the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere, as well as the solid earth. Typically Earth scientists will use tools from physics, chemistry, biology, chronology and mathematics to build a quantitative understanding of how the Earth system works, and how it evolved to its current state.
- 1 Fields of study
- 2 Earth's interior
- 3 Earth's electromagnetic field
- 4 Atmosphere
- 5 Methodology
- 6 Earth's spheres
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Fields of study
The following fields of science are generally categorized within the geosciences:
- Geology describes the rocky parts of the Earth's crust (or lithosphere) and its historic development. Major subdisciplines are mineralogy and petrology, geochemistry, geomorphology, paleontology, stratigraphy, structural geology, engineering geology and sedimentology.
- Geophysics and Geodesy investigate the shape of the Earth, its reaction to forces and its magnetic and gravity fields.[cn] Geophysicists explore the Earth's core and mantle as well as the tectonic and seismic activity of the lithosphere.
- Soil science covers the outermost layer of the Earth's crust that is subject to soil formation processes (or pedosphere). Major subdisciplines include edaphology and pedology.
- Oceanography and hydrology (includes limnology) describe the marine and freshwater domains of the watery parts of the Earth (or hydrosphere). Major subdisciplines include hydrogeology and physical, chemical, and biological oceanography.[cn]
- Glaciology covers the icy parts of the Earth (or cryosphere).
- Atmospheric sciences cover the gaseous parts of the Earth (or atmosphere) between the surface and the exosphere (about 1000 km). Major subdisciplines are meteorology, climatology, atmospheric chemistry and atmospheric physics.
- A very important linking sphere is the biosphere, the study of which is biology. The biosphere consists of all forms of life, from single-celled organisms to pine trees to people. The interactions of Earth's other spheres - lithosphere/geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and/or cryosphere and pedosphere - create the conditions that can support life.
Beneath the Earth's crust lies the mantle which is heated by the radioactive decay of heavy elements. The mantle is not quite solid and consists of magma which is in a state of semi-perpetual convection. This convection process causes the lithospheric plates to move, albeit slowly. The resulting process is known as plate tectonics.
Plate tectonics might be thought of as the process by which the earth is resurfaced. Through a process called spreading ridges (or seafloor spreading), new earth crust is created by the flow of magma from underneath the lithosphere to the surface, through fissures, where it cools and solidifies. Through a process called subduction, crust is pushed undergroundâ€”beneath the rest of the lithosphereâ€”where it comes into contact with magma and meltsâ€”rejoining the mantle from which it originally came.
Areas of the crust where new crust is created are called divergent boundaries, and areas of the crust where it is brought back into the earth are called convergent boundaries. Earthquakes result from the movement of the lithospheric plates, and they often occur near covergent boundaries where parts of the crust are forced into the earth as part of subduction.
Volcanoes result primarily from the melting of subducted crust material. Crust material that is forced into the Asthenosphere melts, and some portion of the melted material becomes light enough to rise to the surfaceâ€”giving birth to volcanoes.
Earth's electromagnetic field
An electromagnet is a magnet that is created by a current that flows around a soft-iron core. Earth has a soft iron inner core surrounded by semi-liquid materials of the outer core that move in continuous currents around the inner core; therefore, the earth is an electromagnet. This is referred to as the dynamo theory of Earth's magnetism.
Earth is blanketed by an atmosphere consisting of 78.0% nitrogen, 20.9% oxygen, and 1% Argon. The atmosphere has five layers: troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere; and 75% of the atmosphere's gases are in the bottom-most layer, the troposphere.
The magnetic field created by the internal motions of the core produces the magnetosphere which protects the Earth's atmosphere from the solar wind. As the earth is 4.5 billion years old, it would have lost its atmosphere by now if there were no protective magnetosphere.
The atmosphere is composed of 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. The remaining one percent contains small amounts of other gases including CO2 and water vapors. Water vapors and CO2 allow the Earth's atmosphere to catch and hold the sun's energy through a phenomenon called the greenhouse effect. This allows earth's surface to be warm enough to have liquid water and support life.
In addition to storing heat, the atmosphere also protects living organisms by shielding the Earth's surface from cosmic rays. Note that the level of protection is high enough to prevent cosmic rays from destroying all life on Earth, yet low enough to aid the mutations that have an important role in pushing forward diversity in the biosphere.[cn]
Like all other scientists, Earth scientists apply the scientific method, taking into account a geoethical approach. They formulate hypotheses after observing events and gathering data about natural phenomena, and then they test hypotheses from such data.
A contemporary idea within earth science is uniformitarianism. Uniformitarianism says that "ancient geologic features are interpreted by understanding active processes that are readily observed".[cn] Simply stated, this means that features of the Earth can be explained by the actions of gradual processes operating over long periods of time; for example, a mountain need not be thought of as having been created in a moment, but instead it may be seen as the result of continuous subduction, causing magma to rise and form continental volcanic arcs.
Earth science generally recognizes four spheres, the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere; these correspond to rocks, water, air, and life. Some practitioners include, as part of the spheres of the Earth, the cryosphere (corresponding to ice) as a distinct portion of the hydrosphere, as well as the pedosphere (corresponding to soil) as an active and intermixed sphere.
Partial list of the major earth science topics
- Marine geology
Lithosphere or geosphere
- Earth sciences graphics software
- Environmental geoscience
- GEO-LEO (GEO Library Experts Online)
- Glossary of geology terms
- List of geoscience organizations
- List of Russian Earth scientists
- Structure of the Earth
- Wordnet Search: Earth science
- Encyclopedia of Volcanoes, Academic Press, London, 2000
- Adams 20
- Smith 5
- Wordnet Search: Geodesy
- NOAA National Ocean Service Education: Geodesy
- Elissa Levine, 2001, The Pedosphere As A Hub
- Duane Gardiner, Lecture: Why Study Soils? excerpted from Miller, R.W. & D.T. Gardiner, 1998. Soils in our Environment, 8th Edition
- Earth's Energy Budget
- Simison par. 7
- Adams 94,95,100,102
- Smith 13-17,218,G-6
- Oldroyd 101,103,104
- Smith 327
- Smith 316,323-325
- There is another type of boundary called a transform boundary where plates slide in opposite directions but no new lithospheric material is created or destroyed (Smith 331).
- Smith 325,326,329
- American 576
- The earth has a solid iron inner core surrounded by a liquid outer core (Oldroyd 160).
- Oldroyd 160
- Demorest, Paul (2001-05-21). "Dynamo Theory and Earth's Magnetic Field.". http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/~pauld/etc/210BPaper.pdf. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- Adams 107-108
- Adams 21-22
- Smith 183
- American 770
- Earth's Spheres. Â©1997-2000. Wheeling Jesuit University/NASA Classroom of the Future. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
- Allaby M., 2008. Dictionary of Earth Sciences, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199211944
- Adams, Simon; David Lambert (2006). Earth Science: An illustrated guide to science. New York NY 10001: Chelsea House. pp. 20. ISBN 0-8160-6164-5. earth science.
- executive editor, Joseph P. Pickett (1992). American Heritage dictionary of the English language (4th ed.). 222 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA 02116: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 572, 770. ISBN 0-395-82517-2. american.
- Korvin G., 1998. Fractal Models in the Earth Sciences, Elsvier, ISBN 978-0444889072
- "Earth's Energy Budget". Oklahoma Climatological Survey. 1996-2004. okfirst. http://okfirst.mesonet.org/train/meteorology/EnergyBudget.html. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- Miller, George A.; Christiane Fellbaum, and Randee Tengi, and Pamela Wakefield, and Rajesh Poddar, and Helen Langone, and Benjamin Haskell (2006). "WordNet Search 3.0". WordNet a lexical database for the English language. Princeton University/Cognitive Science Laboratory /221 Nassau St./ Princeton, NJ 08542. wordnet:earth science. http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=Earth+science&sub=Search+WordNet&o2=&o0=1&o7=&o5=&o1=1&o6=&o4=&o3=&h=0. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
- "NOAA National Ocean Service Education: Geodesy". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2005-03-08. oceanservice. http://www.oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/geodesy/welcome.html. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- Oldroyd, David (2006). Earth Cycles: A historical perspective. Westport, Connicticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-33229-0. earth cycles.
- Reed, Christina (2008). Earth Science: Decade by Decade. New York, NY: Facts on File. ISBN 978-0816055333. earth-science history during the 20th century.
- Simison, W. Brian (2007-02-05). "The mechanism behind plate tectonics". http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/geology/tecmech.html. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- Smith, Gary A.; Aurora Pun (2006). How Does the Earth Work?. Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458: Pearson Prentice Hall. pp. 5. ISBN 0-13-034129-0. how does.
- Tarbuck E. J., Lutgens F. K., and Tasa D., 2002. Earth Science, Prentice Hall, ISBN 978-0130353900
- Yang X. S., 2008. Mathematical Modelling for Earth Sciences, Dunedin Academic Press, ISBN 978-1903765920
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- Earth Science Picture of the Day, a service of Universities Space Research Association, sponsored by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
- Geoethics in Planetary and Space Exploration.
-  , National Earth Science Teachers Association
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