Section 1: The Study of Earth Science

Earth science is the study of the earth and its place in the universe.  Earth scientists use several big ideas to guide them.  They look at the structure of the earth’s system, its history, and the earth in the solar system.  They also look at how forces have changed the earth’s surface throughout its history, including both constructive and destructive forces.  Constructive forces shape the earth’s surface by building mountains and land masses.  Destructive forces slowly wear away mountains and every other feature on the earth’s surface.

A system is a group of parts that work together as a whole.  Matter and energy constantly move from one part of the earth’s system to another.  Earth’s systems include the atmosphere, lithosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere.  The atmosphere is a thin layer of gases that surrounds our planet.  It allows for varied climate and long-term weather conditions.  The lithosphere is a solid part of the earth made up of rocks, minerals, and other elements, not including the ocean.  The hydrosphere is comprised of all the waters on the earth’s surface, including lakes and oceans. The hydrosphere is a significant force that shapes weather and climate.  The biosphere is the part of the planet where living things can be found from the upper atmosphere to the bottom of the oceans.   Finally, the cryosphere includes the elements of the earth’s surface where water is solid and includes frozen water, sea ice, glaciers, and frozen ground.

Earth scientists study the sphere on which we live, which includes several branches.  Geology is the study of forces that have shaped the earth.  A geologist studies how rocks and minerals form.  They study the causes of earthquakes and the formations of volcanoes.  Some specialize in the study of soil, and some study rivers and lakes.  Oceanography is the study of everything from the chemistry of the ocean water to the ocean floor and marine organisms.  Some scientists study the physical properties of oceans, like waves and ocean currents, while others explore the composition of ocean water and marine life.  Meteorology is the study of conditions in the atmosphere.  A meteorologist looks at weather patterns and uses radars and satellites to predict the weather.   Astronomy focuses on the solar system, stars, and galaxies.  An astronomer uses telescopes and satellites to see things in space.  They study planets and the universe as a whole.    Environmental science is the study of the earth’s environment and resources.  It looks at people’s effects on different environments and finds ways to minimize the damage we may cause.


  1. Identify Earth’s five systems.
  2. Describe the characteristics of a geologist.
  3. What is environmental science?

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