Studying the earth as a system includes many ways to study the physical and chemical processes that take place on the earth. Prior to studying the earth as a system, scientists used to study the earth’s systems individually, only sporadically collaborating on research to find relationships between the systems.
But now, with the Earth’s climate changing and vulnerable populations becoming increasingly threatened by natural hazards, the benefit of studying Earth as a system is more clear.
Studying the Earth as a System with Five Components
The planet is made up of many physical and chemical components. Individually, these are referred to as systems. The Earth has five systems of physical or chemical interactions that can be studied through observation.
- Atmosphere – the layers of gases surrounding the Earth and the interaction between these gases
- Lithosphere – the crust of the Earth
- Biosphere – all the living things on Earth, including plants and animals
- Hydrosphere – the oceans, rivers and lakes on Earth
- Cryosphere – the glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice on Earth
Many scientists have dedicated their lives to studying the earth as a system. Much is understood about these systems, although there is much more to be learned by the researchers, who are studying the earth as a system and trying to explain why those are so important for our planet.
However, not until recently, did scientists begin to collaborate on research projects that took into consideration the interaction between two or more of these systems. This field of study is called Earth system science and at many universities it is becoming more popular as a degree program.
Planet Earth…and You!
Earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain formation, ice ages, landslides, floods, life development, plate motions—all of these events have combined to shape the dynamic world that we live on today. Planet Earth gives a geological overview of numerous features of our world.
Studying the earth as a system is helpful for the whole humanity and the futre of our children and grandchildren, who will live after us. We did not found another suitable planet for our species yet and therefor; it is very important to think about; how we treat the planet earth.
One of the reasons that more students and professors are entering the field of Earth System Science is to study how climate change and natural hazards will affect society through these systems. The multi-disciplinary aspect of it also makes it attractive to those that like to do research in a collaborative setting.
Doing a Google search on “Earth System Science degree programs” returns hundreds of hits for universities that now offer this degree.
Earth System Science and the Anthrosphere
Studying the Earth as a system doesn’t just focus on the physical and chemical interactions of the Earth systems, but it also focuses on how the anthrosphere, or human activity, interacts with the Earth’s systems. For example, a current research topic in Earth system science studies how human activity is changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere.
The Science of the Solar System
Learn about the science underlying the present solar system exploration. Understand the latest from Mars, the outer solar system, planets outside our solar system, and the quest for habitability in our neighborhood and beyond by using concepts from physics, chemistry, biology, and geology. This subject is often taught at an intermediate level, requiring prior knowledge of college math and physics, however the majority of the topics and lectures are understandable without these requirements.
Changes in the atmosphere also affect the hyrdrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere. This is evident in how the increase of green house gases in the atmosphere, due to human activity, is warming the oceans and, therefore, melting sea ice at the poles.
Instead of studying the atmosphere by itself, Earth system scientists study how changes in one system are affecting the other systems. This approach provides a much more comprehensive understanding of how the environment works and how human activity is changing the planet.