Environmental Science

The discipline of environmental science is (HarperCollins Dictionary of Environmental Science)

the relatively new interdisciplinary study that examines the interaction between mankind and the environment, with specific reference to the problems resulting from emergence of the human species as the technological superorganism late in the 20th century .

The interdisciplinary aspect of the field involves the scientific disciplines of physical geography, ecology, and geology, as well as aspects of the social sciences such as economics, politics, and sociology. The combination of these learning areas is de signed to provide the environmental scientist the tools to understand the current state of Earth, as well as the training to help in the repair and management of Earth and its resources.

The Environmental Encyclopedia, describes the field similarly as "essentially the application of scientific methods and principles to the study of environmental questions". They also go on to explore the interdisciplinary natu re of the field, explaining that it is a comprehensive field including the disciplines of chemistry, physics, civil engineering, and biology. It does make the distinction from ecology, in that environmental scientists may or may not include organisms in their field of view, but instead focus on environmental problems which may be purely physical in nature.

As the information age is upon us, the fields of computer science, management science, and economics also play a large role in the discipline of environmental sciences. It is becoming increasingly important to be able to utilize the capabilites of computers to manage the mass of data and information within the environmental fields. The economics of making our world more environmentally conscious also plays a large role in environmental decision making.

Earth Science

The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Environmental Science and Engineering describes the discipl ine as "sciences that involve attempts to understand the nature, origin, evolution, and behavior of the Earth or of its parts and to comprehend Earth's place in the universe and especially in the solar system".

The sciences that make up earth sciences include: geology, which can be simplified as the study of the Earth in an attempt to determine the origin, history, and processes of the Earth from the study of rocks; oceanography, the study of the oceans or the s tudy of the aqueous parts of the Earth; atmospheric sciences, including the study of weather, climate, and aeronomy; biosphere studies including zoology; botany, and ecology; geography, the study of all aspects of the Earth's surface, including those of t he social sciences such as political science and economics.

There is of course great overlap of these sciences, and the combination of these sciences has attracted a large interest in recent years. According to Parker, 1993, it is "concern that unprecedented changes in the global environment may occur early in the twenty-first century (which) has given both scientists and politicians a new interest in the science of the Earth system".

Earth sciences heavily involve information sciences as well, especially since we have entered the information age, and have the technology available to collect the information necessary for comprehensive study of the Earth. It is specifically Earth-obser ving instruments which have revolutionized the fields within earth sciences. There is now the capability to monitor the changes in the behavior of the Earth system from space - fulfilling the basic requirement of continuing global observation.


Compiled by

Joy Grillon jg2@cec.wustl.edu Last updated 11/13/94.