Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Newton Horace Winchell School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

What is Earth Science

Obviously, the 'study of the earth' is quite a broad concept, so there are many subdisciplines within the Earth sciences. In general, geology is the scientific study of the earth- the material of which it is made, the processes that act on these materials, the products formed, and the history of the planet and its life forms since origin. Geology now includes the study of other planets as well. And geophysics focuses on the application of physical laws and principles to a study of the earth.

However, these two very broad categories can be broken down futher into many subdisciplines. Listed below is a brief description of some of the major research areas currently being conducted in our department. If you wish to contact a professor regarding research in any of these areas, please click here for more information and links.

  • Biomagnetism :   The study of magnetic bacteria and their relationship to the earth's magnetic field.
  • Environmental Geology :   The interdisciplinary study of the interaction of humans with the geologic environment including the biosphere, the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, and to some extent the atmosphere.
  • Exploration Geophysics : Application of seismology, gravity and magnetics to the location of petroleum and ore deposits.
  • Fluid Dynamics : Application of physics and mathematics to the flow of fluids and solids.
  • Geobiology : The study of processes at the interface between organic and inorganic materials, and the role of microbes on the origin of life.
  • Geochemistry : The study of the distribution and amounts of chemical elements and their isotopes in minerals, ores, rocks, soils, waters, and the atmosphere.
  • Geochronology :   Study of time in relationship to the history of the earth.
  • Geofluids : Study of fluids in and on Earth and other planets.
  • Geologic Mapping and Resource Evaluation :   Determining the distribution of different rocks at the earth's surface and economic implications.
  • Geostatistics :   Application of statistics to the analysis of geological and geophysical data.
  • Hydrogeology :   The study of water flow and chemistry at and below the earth's surface.
  • Limnology :   The study of lake sediments, most often used to determine past climate and ecological environments.
  • Mineral Physics : The study of how minerals respond to forces.
  • Mineralogy : The study of minerals: formation, occurrence, properties, composition, crystal structure, and classification.
  • Numerical Modeling : Supercomputer applications to a wide variety of problems involving flow of geological materials.
  • Oceanography :   The study of the ocean, including its boundaries and bottom topography, the physics and chemistry of sea water, the types of currents, and the many phases of marine biology.
  • Paleoclimatology :   The study of past climatic and ecological environments.
  • Paleomagnetism : The study of the magnetic record in rocks and implications for plate tectonics and the origin of the earth's magnetic field.
  • Paleontology :   The study of life in past geologic time, based on fossil plant and animals, their relationships to existing plants, animals and environments, and the chronology of Earth's history.
  • Petrology :   The study of the formation of rocks at depth in the earth.
  • Rock and Mineral Magnetism :   The study of how rocks and minerals record magnetic information.
  • Sedimentology :   The scientific study of sedimentary rocks and the processes by which they were formed: the description, classification, and interpretation of sediments. Includes basin analysis, river studies, surface processes, stratigraphy, and geochronology.
  • Seismology : Study of seismic waves to determine the internal structure of the earth and the origin and location of earthquakes.
  • Structural Geology and Tectonics :   The study of mountain building, movement of tectonic plates, and deformation of the earth's crust.
  • Volcanology :   The scientific study of the dynamics of volcanoes.

These sciences are interdisciplinary in nature as geoscientists need to know the core sciences of chemistry, physics, and math. Earth is where we live- what affects it, affects us. Therefore, there are crossovers to many other areas of study, some of which are

  • Archaeology
  • Biology
  • Computer Science
  • Ecology
  • Engineering
  • Geography
  • Materials Science
  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science
  • Water Resources