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What is Earth Science?

Deepa Gagwani, Peter Jaeger
  • Author
    Deepa Gagwani

    Deepa is a postgraduate in Microbiology. She has more than 10 years experience of working in pharmaceutical industry and has taught elementary school (grades 3-5) environmental science and lifeskill for 2 years. She earned her best executive achievement during her teaching tenure.

  • Instructor
    Peter Jaeger

    Pete currently teaches middle school Science, college level introductory Science, and has a master's degree in Environmental Education.

Learn the Earth science definition and study the different fields of Earth science. Explore the different career fields and see what Earth scientists study. Updated: 11/29/2021

What is Earth Science?

Science is the study of the form and behavior of natural and physical features of our world. The study of science is divided in three branches:

  • Physical science (physics and chemistry)
  • Life science (biology, ecology, and environmental science)
  • Earth science (geology, meteorology, astronomy, and oceanography)

As the name suggests, Earth science is the study of our planet Earth and its neighboring planets in space. Our planet is a huge and complex place. The study of different features and processes helps us to learn how different natural systems work on our planet. Earth science research helps to solve several unsolved mysteries about our planet. This branch of science investigates the structure, processes, and properties of the Earth. The vast amount of information and knowledge surrounding the study has resulted in the division of this field into several sub-categories.

Earth science is the study of Earth and neighboring planets in space

What is Earth science?

The Earth science definition is the study of features and processes of the Earth and its nearby planets in space. It incorporates different fields of study like meteorology, oceanography, astronomy, and geology. Today, these fields have expanded into several sub-categories and specializations like seismology, volcanology, geochemistry, ecology, cartography, mineralogy, and limnology.

What Is Earth Science?

There are three main branches of science: life science, physical science, and earth science. In each of these disciplines are subcategories of specific areas or fields. Life science includes biology, ecology, or environmental science. Physical science includes chemistry and physics. Earth science, which is the topic of this course, includes many branches, some of which we will cover in this lesson. We will discover what geology is along with the related branches of meteorology and oceanography.

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  • 0:07 What Is Earth Science?
  • 0:42 Earth Science Is More…
  • 1:21 Word Roots
  • 2:42 What Do Scientists Do?
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Earth Science Fields

Earth science is mainly divided into four fields:

  • Geology
  • Astronomy
  • Oceanography
  • Meteorology

Geology

Geology is the study of different materials, structures, and crust of Earth. It also includes the study of processes that create them. The vast knowledge of the field is segregated into sub-categories like seismology, mineralogy, and volcanology.

Seismology is an important specialization under geophysics. It studies seismic waves and earthquakes that are formed in the Earth's crust. Scientists who study seismic waves and earthquakes are seismologists. Seismic waves are the movements of tectonic plates (pieces of Earth's outermost layer). Sudden or aggressive movements, faults, stress or slips of these plates can lead to earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, and avalanches. The instrument used for measuring seismic vibrations during an earthquake is called a seismograph.

Mineralogy is the specific area of Earth science that studies different aspects of minerals. This includes the chemical composition, physical features, type of forms, occurrence, and distribution in nature. It also involves the study of crystals and is referred to as crystallography. Crystallography deals with the study of crystals and their geometry. The study involves measuring the faces, axes, and symmetry of the crystals.

Volcanology is dedicated to the study of volcanoes. This involves understanding the processes that have a direct or indirect effect on volcano eruption, emission of magma, and its impact on the environment.

Volcanologist studying the volcanic lava and its impact on environment

Volcanologist- an Earth scientist studying the volcanic lava and its impact

Astronomy

Astronomy is the branch of Earth science that studies the neighboring planets in space. This includes the celestial bodies that we can see and cannot see with our naked eye. It includes study of the moon, the Sun, planets, stars, galaxies, and dark matter. Since the time when early astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo unraveled the mysteries of our planet and other celestial bodies in the solar system, people have always wanted to learn more about the universe. This field of Earth science keeps a track on everything in space to answer several interesting and unanswered questions in astronomy.

Oceanography

Around 71 percent of the planet Earth is covered in water. Oceans are the largest water bodies on our planet and are home to 2.2 million species of animals. The changes in the climate have affected the chemical and biological features of oceans. Oceanography deals with the study of the physical, biological, and chemical aspects of the ocean.

Meteorology

Meteorology is the study of atmospheric properties and processes occurring in the Earth's lower atmosphere. Meteorologists study the patterns of winds and forecast the weather. They use sophisticated tools, maps, and satellite data to infer weather changes. This branch of Earth science is important for providing weather forecasts and predicting the effects of climate change.

Meteorology, a branch of Earth science uses satellite data for weather forecast

Meteorology, a branch of Earth science uses satellite data for weather forecast

Other additional specifications like limnology (study of freshwater bodies), cartography (study and making of maps), and geography (study of landforms, places, and people living there) also come under Earth science.

Word Roots in the Earth Science Fields

The different technical words used in the branches of Earth science follow word roots that are derived from the Latin or Greek language. A new learner in the field of Earth sciences can be confused with the range of technical terms used in the theoretical study. Understanding these word roots makes learning of concepts easier for the learner. Different word roots are combined with other words to form different technical and scientific terms.

For example, Earth science is also known as geoscience. Here the Greek root word geo means Earth. The various branches and sub-branches combine this root word with other words to form names that represent the study. For example, geography (geo + graphos = earth + to write), geomorphology (geo + morpho = earth + shape), geochronometry (geo +chrono = earth + time). In this case, the root word "geo" is combined with other Greek affixes to form various Earth science terms.

Similarly, the suffix -ology means study of. This suffix when added to other Greek root words form the names of different branches of study. For example, meteorology (meteor + ology = study of + high sky) and microbiology (microbio + ology = study of + tiny organisms).

The majority of technical terms in Earth sciences are derived from more than 300-word roots from Greek, Latin, and German. The most frequently used word roots are: iso, geo, morphic, thermo, chrono, strato, and pseudo.

Earth Science Is More Than You Think

Earth science is a general term referring to any studies that relate to the earth or neighboring planets in our solar system. The four major fields in earth science include geology, the study of the earth's structure; meteorology, the study of the weather and atmosphere; oceanography, the study of the oceans; and astronomy, the study of the universe. There can be even further specialization in these four fields because experts might hone in on one specific aspect in a field, like volcanology, the study of volcanoes; seismology, the study of earthquakes; or limnology, the study of freshwater.

Word Roots

Our language is made up of many parts of words from many different languages. Science is no different. Many of the words we use in science and medicine have their roots in Greek and Latin. If you are familiar with some roots and make connections with other words you know, the meaning of many words can be deciphered.

For instance, geology is the study of the earth. Broken down into its parts, '-ology' comes from the Greek word 'logia' and means 'the study of,' and the root 'geo-' means 'related to the earth.' These same parts are used many places in science with similar meanings, like geography, where 'geo-' means 'the earth' and '-graphy' comes from the Greek 'graphos,' meaning 'written.' Also, biology is the '-ology,' or 'study of,' 'bios,' or 'the way of life.'

How about some others? Meteorology can be broken apart to '-ology' from 'logia,' which we already learned, and 'meteor-,' which is Greek for 'high in the sky.' Meteorology is the study of weather. Oceanography, another branch of earth science, uses 'ocean,' or 'related to the ocean,' and 'graphos,' which we learned before means 'drawing,' giving us the name for the study of the oceans. Maybe the people naming this field thought 'oceanology' didn't have a nice ring to it.

What Do Scientists Do?

You might be asking yourself, 'What is the purpose of earth science,' or maybe, 'What do scientists study in these fields?' There are a great many reasons why earth science is an important field of study. Meteorology, for instance, is a very pertinent field of study because we are all affected by the weather. The more accurate the weather predictions, the better planning that can be made. The sooner warnings about impending storms, like tornadoes or hurricanes, are issued, the better chance for saving lives, property, and money.

Scientists study oceanography to learn about the composition, organisms, and processes of the ocean. This is important because 71% of our earth is covered by them, and they are critical for our survival. Food and other commodities come from the oceans. Oceans are being investigated for usable sources of energy and also because they are the main influence over our climate.

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Video Transcript

What Is Earth Science?

There are three main branches of science: life science, physical science, and earth science. In each of these disciplines are subcategories of specific areas or fields. Life science includes biology, ecology, or environmental science. Physical science includes chemistry and physics. Earth science, which is the topic of this course, includes many branches, some of which we will cover in this lesson. We will discover what geology is along with the related branches of meteorology and oceanography.

Earth Science Is More Than You Think

Earth science is a general term referring to any studies that relate to the earth or neighboring planets in our solar system. The four major fields in earth science include geology, the study of the earth's structure; meteorology, the study of the weather and atmosphere; oceanography, the study of the oceans; and astronomy, the study of the universe. There can be even further specialization in these four fields because experts might hone in on one specific aspect in a field, like volcanology, the study of volcanoes; seismology, the study of earthquakes; or limnology, the study of freshwater.

Word Roots

Our language is made up of many parts of words from many different languages. Science is no different. Many of the words we use in science and medicine have their roots in Greek and Latin. If you are familiar with some roots and make connections with other words you know, the meaning of many words can be deciphered.

For instance, geology is the study of the earth. Broken down into its parts, '-ology' comes from the Greek word 'logia' and means 'the study of,' and the root 'geo-' means 'related to the earth.' These same parts are used many places in science with similar meanings, like geography, where 'geo-' means 'the earth' and '-graphy' comes from the Greek 'graphos,' meaning 'written.' Also, biology is the '-ology,' or 'study of,' 'bios,' or 'the way of life.'

How about some others? Meteorology can be broken apart to '-ology' from 'logia,' which we already learned, and 'meteor-,' which is Greek for 'high in the sky.' Meteorology is the study of weather. Oceanography, another branch of earth science, uses 'ocean,' or 'related to the ocean,' and 'graphos,' which we learned before means 'drawing,' giving us the name for the study of the oceans. Maybe the people naming this field thought 'oceanology' didn't have a nice ring to it.

What Do Scientists Do?

You might be asking yourself, 'What is the purpose of earth science,' or maybe, 'What do scientists study in these fields?' There are a great many reasons why earth science is an important field of study. Meteorology, for instance, is a very pertinent field of study because we are all affected by the weather. The more accurate the weather predictions, the better planning that can be made. The sooner warnings about impending storms, like tornadoes or hurricanes, are issued, the better chance for saving lives, property, and money.

Scientists study oceanography to learn about the composition, organisms, and processes of the ocean. This is important because 71% of our earth is covered by them, and they are critical for our survival. Food and other commodities come from the oceans. Oceans are being investigated for usable sources of energy and also because they are the main influence over our climate.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What defines Earth science?

Earth science is the study of Earth and neighboring planets in space. This field of science also studies the different processes and historical events that impact the form and environment of Earth.

What are the 4 main branches of Earth science?

Earth science has 4 main branches. These branches include geology (physical and historical geology), meteorology (study of weather and climate), oceanography (study of ocean), and astronomy (study of neighboring planets in space).

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