EAS-100-51: Introduction to Earth Science
What is "science"?

Science is the logical, systematic study and knowledge of the natural universe. Science is based upon observation, study, experimentation, evidence, and continuous refinement. Science has many diverse disciplines, but as a whole, has 3 major goals:

1. To explain how things work (natural phenomena).

2. To predict how things may work under certain circumstances, as yet unseen (scientific theories).

3. To provide a scientific framework that eventually unifies all previous science by "explaining more and more phenomena with fewer and fewer theories."

What is a "theory" as used in science?

A "theory" is not just a wild guess or conjecture on the part of scientists, as sometimes depicted by the media. A theory is a well-tested explanation that is supported by experimental and/or field evidence. General acceptance of a theory as scientific fact by scientists is accomplished if the theory survives all attacks on its weaknesses, and becomes "the best existing explanation for a particular phenomenon."

Does a theory stand forever?

NO. A theory may eventually be replaced in the future if there is overwhelming scientific evidence to support a new theory.

What are examples of landmark (framework) theories?

A theory that gives us the "big picture" and unifies the many subdisciplines of an area of science is known as a landmark or framework theory. Examples of these include:
Earth Science
Biology & Paleontology

How does understanding science benefit me?

    It is not necessary to become a scientist for a student to learn and appreciate science. In this course, you will be practicing science "hands-on", not just learning about science. Science is not just a collection of "useful facts," it is a discipline that requires you to learn basic tools (vocabulary, concepts, principles) and techniques (laboratory) in order to make logical decisions and derive conclusions and explanations based upon your own observations. The discipline, organizational skills, and logical thinking required by science will serve students well, no matter what career they eventually choose.

What is "earth science"?

    Earth science includes the disciplines of geology (the solid earth), oceanography and hydrology (the earth's water), and meteorology and climatology (the atmosphere). Earth science is a an interdisciplinary science which incorporates chemistry, physics, and biology. The emphasis of this course will be on geology, and will include some aspects of oceanography and meteorology.

What are some of the subdisciplines of geology?

There are two broad divisions of geology:

PHYSICAL GEOLOGY concentrates on the composition and structure of the solid earth, and includes MINERALOGY (minerals), PETROLOGY (rocks), SEDIMENTOLOGY (sediments and sedimentary rocks), SEISMOLOGY (earthquakes), etc.

HISTORICAL GEOLOGY concentrates on the past history of the earth, including processes and life forms that shaped the earth's past and created the present, and can include PALEONTOLOGY (fossils and past life), STRATIGRAPHY (rock layers and their history), GEOCHRONOLOGY (age determination of rocks), etc.

What is a "historical science"?

In earth science (especially geology and paleontology), the factor of time plays a critical role in the choice of methods that earth scientists use to conduct experiments. Certain earth processes, such as the movement of the rock in the earth's mantle, or mountain-building, are too slow or are too big for humans to observe. Unlike a chemist or physicist, a geologist can't always construct a convenient experiment to test cause and result that takes place in a controlled laboratory. A geologist may have to take the "result" (such as a rock or fossil) and work backwards to figure out the process that produced it.

How are earth science and environmental science related?

Certain disciplines of applied earth science, such as environmental geology and engineering geology, focus on the impact of human activities on the earth, and vice versa (i.e., the potential geological hazards which naturally occur, such as landslides, flooding, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions). Environmental science is broader based and includes focus on the biological and ecosystem impacts of human activities.

Copyright © 1990 by William K. Tong