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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 science.

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.

Fields of study

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

Earth's interior

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

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 resurfaces itself. Through a process called spreading ridges (or seafloor spreading), the earth creates new crust by allowing magma underneath the lithosphere to come to the surface where it cools and solidifies--becoming new crust, and through a process called subduction, excess 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.

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 surface--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 core surrounded by semi-liquid materials from the mantle that move in continuous currents around the core; therefore, the earth is an electromagnet. This is referred to as the dynamo theory of Earth's magnetism. The fact that Earth is an electromagnet helps it maintain an atmosphere suitable for life.


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 mantle's internal motions produces the magnetosphere which protects the Earth's atmosphere from the solar wind. It is theorized that the solar wind would strip away earth's atmosphere in a few million years were it not for the Earth's electromagnet. And since earth is 4.5 billion years old, earth would not have an atmosphere by now if there were no 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.


Like all other scientists, Earth scientists apply the scientific method. 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". 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; 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. 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. Adams 94,95,100,102
  12. Smith 13-17,218,G-6
  13. 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. 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. Adams 107-108
  22. Adams 21-22
  23. Smith 183
  24. American 770
  25. Earth's Spheres. ©1997-2000. Wheeling Jesuit University/NASA Classroom of the Future. Retrieved November 11 2007.

Further reading

  • Allaby M., 2008. Dictionary of Earth Sciences, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199211944
  • Korvin G., 1998. Fractal Models in the Earth Sciences, Elsvier, ISBN 978-0444889072
  • 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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