Earth science

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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.[1] 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.

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A volcano eruption is the release of stored energy from below the surface of Earth, originating from radioactive decay and gravitational sorting in the Earth's core and mantle, and residual energy gained during the Earth`s formation.[2]

Fields of study

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Lava flows from the KÄ«lauea volcano into the ocean on the Island of Hawaii

The following fields of science are generally categorized within the geosciences:

Earth's interior

Plate tectonics, mountain ranges, volcanoes, and earthquakes are geological phenomena that can be explained in terms of energy transformations in the Earth's crust.[9]

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.[10][11][12][13]

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 underground—beneath the rest of the lithosphere—where it comes into contact with magma and melts—rejoining the mantle from which it originally came.[11][13][14]

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.[15][16] 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.[17]

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 surface—giving birth to volcanoes.[11][17]

Earth's electromagnetic field

An electromagnet is a magnet that is created by a current that flows around a soft-iron core.[18] 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;[19] therefore, the earth is an electromagnet. This is referred to as the dynamo theory of Earth's magnetism.[20][21]


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The magnetosphere shields the surface of Earth from the charged particles of the solar wind. It is compressed on the day (Sun) side due to the force of the arriving particles, and extended on the night side. (Image not to scale.)

Earth is blanketed by an atmosphere consisting of 78.0% nitrogen, 20.9% oxygen, and 1% Argon.[22] 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.[22]

The magnetic field created by the internal motions of the core produces the magnetosphere which protects the Earth's atmosphere from the solar wind.[23] As the earth is 4.5 billion years old,[24] 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.[22] Water vapors and CO2 allow the Earth's atmosphere to catch and hold the sun's energy through a phenomenon called the greenhouse effect.[25] 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's spheres

Earth science generally recognizes four spheres, the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere;[26] 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

See: List of basic earth science topics




Lithosphere or geosphere




See also


  1. Wordnet Search: Earth science
  2. Encyclopedia of Volcanoes, Academic Press, London, 2000
  3. Adams 20
  4. 4.0 4.1 Smith 5
  5. Wordnet Search: Geodesy
  6. NOAA National Ocean Service Education: Geodesy
  7. Elissa Levine, 2001, The Pedosphere As A Hub
  8. Duane Gardiner, Lecture: Why Study Soils? excerpted from Miller, R.W. & D.T. Gardiner, 1998. Soils in our Environment, 8th Edition
  9. Earth's Energy Budget
  10. Simison par. 7
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Adams 94,95,100,102
  12. Smith 13-17,218,G-6
  13. 13.0 13.1 Oldroyd 101,103,104
  14. Smith 327
  15. Smith 316,323-325
  16. 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).
  17. 17.0 17.1 Smith 325,326,329
  18. American 576
  19. The earth has a solid iron inner core surrounded by a liquid outer core (Oldroyd 160).
  20. Oldroyd 160
  21. Demorest, Paul (2001-05-21). "Dynamo Theory and Earth's Magnetic Field.". Retrieved 2007-11-17. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Adams 107-108
  23. Adams 21-22
  24. Smith 183
  25. American 770
  26. Earth's Spheres. ©1997-2000. Wheeling Jesuit University/NASA Classroom of the Future. Retrieved November 11, 2007.

Further reading

External links

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