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Earth Science

Earth, Air, And Water

Earth science is the study of the physical components of Earth—its water, land, and air—and the processes that influence them. Earth science can also be thought of as the study of the five physical spheres of Earth: atmosphere (gases), lithosphere (rock), pedosphere (soil and sediment), hydrosphere (liquid water), and cryosphere (ice). As a result, Earth scientists must consider interactions between all three states of matter—solid, liquid, and gas—when performing investigations. The subdisciplines of Earth science are many, and include the geosciences, oceanography, and the atmospheric sciences.

The geosciences involve studies of the solid part of Earth and include geology, geochemistry, and geophysics. Geology is the study of Earth materials and processes. Geochemistry examines the composition and interaction of Earth's chemical components. Geophysicists study the dynamics of Earth and the nature of interactions between its physical components.

Oceanography involves the study of all aspects of the oceans: chemistry, water movements, depth, topography, etc. Considerable overlap exists between oceanography and the geosciences. However, due to the special tools and techniques required for studying the oceans, oceanography and the geosciences continue to be thought of as separate disciplines.

The atmospheric sciences, meteorology and climatology, involve the study of the atmosphere. Meteorology is the study of the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere. One of the primary goals of meteorology is the analysis and prediction of short-term weather patterns. Climatology is the study of long-term weather patterns, including their causes, variation, and distribution.

Due to the interactions between the different spheres of Earth, scientists from these different subdisciplines often must work together. Together, Earth scientists can better understand the highly involved and interrelated systems of Earth and find better answers to the difficult questions posed by many natural phenomena. In addition, due to the interwoven nature of the biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) parts of Earth's environment, Earth scientists sometimes work with life scientists (i.e., biologists, ecologists, agronomists, etc.) who study Earth's biosphere.

Earth science research focuses on solving the many problems posed by increasing human populations, decreasing natural resources, and inevitable natural hazards. Computer and satellite technologies are increasingly utilized in the search for and development of Earth's resources for present and future use.



Press, Frank, and Raymond Siever. Understanding Earth. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 2001.

Tarbuck, Edward. D., Frederick K. Lutgens, and Tasa Dennis. Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.


Hellfrich, George, and Wood, Bernard, "The Earth's Mantle." Nature. (August 2, 2001): 501–507.


United States Geological Survey. "Science for a Changing World." [cited February 24, 2003]. <http://www.usgs.gov/>.

K. Lee Lerner

Jack Vine

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Dysprosium to Electrophoresis - Electrophoretic TheoryEarth Science - air Earth and water