Why do eclipses occur? How deep is the ocean? These questions are best answered through an investigation into Earth Science. This lesson introduces the four main branches of Earth Science and provides examples of content within each branch.
Four Main Branches of Earth Science
Earth science is the study of the Earth and it's atmosphere. Within this area of science there are four branches that focus on specific areas of Earth science. These four branches are geology, meteorology, oceanography, and astronomy. Let's learn more about each of these branches.
The first branch of Earth science is geology. Geology is the study of the geosphere, or rock portion of the Earth. Scientists working in the field of geology may find themselves studying things such as rock types, movement of the Earth's continents, earthquakes, volcanoes, erosion or sedimentation. The truth is that geology is a huge field, and people entering the field are likely to choose their own specialty within it.
The second major branch of Earth science is meteorology. Meteorology is the study of our atmosphere and the weather and climatic patterns therein. People working as meteorologists would study items such as atmospheric layers, humidity, global air circulation, precipitation, heat transfer, pressure, or other similar items.
Meteorologists could read and interpret this weather map to make an assessment of daily or weekly weather patterns. However, meteorology is not a science unto itself. Instead, it is highly linked to another branch of Earth science -- oceanography.
Oceanography is the study of our global oceans. These oceans move large amounts of warm water around the globe and therefore have major influence on atmospheric heating. This heat transfer is largely responsible for oceanography's strong connection to meteorology. Don't believe me? Ask yourself this: Which is warmer during wintertime, Great Britain or northern Minnesota? Many people think of northern Minnesota as bitterly cold. And they're right. Great Britain is primarily rainy but not frozen. Yet Great Britain is farther north than northern Minnesota. Have a look at our map. Northern Minnesota is on the left, while Great Britain is on the right.
The reason Great Britain is warmer than northern Minnesota is because of ocean currents. These currents bring warmer water and heat to Great Britain and therefore insulate it against bitterly cold winters. Northern Minnesota isn't so fortunate.
Despite this linkage, oceanography is still a unique branch of Earth science. In addition to ocean currents, oceanographers also study the seafloor's age and movements, ocean water chemistry, the ocean's role in climate change, and ocean life. It has been said that people know more about the surface of the moon than they do the bottom of the ocean. This may be true, as new deep-ocean species are being discovered on a regular basis.
For example, not long ago the giant squid was considered a myth, and the coelacanth (a fish) was thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs. Well, the giant squid has now been documented as real, and fisherman surprised scientists by catching a live coelacanth. Oceanography is definitely a field with immense potential for learning about our world.
The fourth and final major branch of Earth science is a field called astronomy. Astronomy is the study of celestial objects and our universe in general. Why we have seasons, how the Earth orbits the Sun, and which galaxy we're in are all examples of questions that were answered because of astronomy. Astronomers have the unenviable job of learning about our entire universe without ever visiting most of it. This makes astronomy difficult, yet very exciting. Only recently do we believe that a man-made object has left the solar system, and people have yet to visit anywhere in space beyond our moon. Astronomers, much like oceanographers, are at the forefront of discovery.
Why do we have seasons? What does the ocean floor look like? How old is the Earth? What's the weather going to be like tomorrow? Someone in the field of Earth science can best answer these questions. Earth science is a general term used to describe all fields of study pertaining to the Earth. The four major branches of Earth science are geology, meteorology, oceanography, and astronomy.
Geology is the study of the geosphere, which is composed of Earth's rocks and minerals. Meteorologists study the atmosphere and how it functions with regard to weather and climate. Oceanography focuses its attention on the global oceans and their role in climate, seafloor ages, water chemistry, and oceanic life. And finally, astronomers study the universe and all celestial objects therein.