Environmental science

Environmental science is an interdisciplinary academic field that integrates physics, biology, and geography (including ecology, chemistry, plant science, zoology, mineralogy, oceanography, limnology, soil science, geology and physical geography, and atmospheric science) to the study of the environment, and the solution of environmental problems. Environmental science emerged from the fields of natural history and medicine during the Enlightenment.[1] Today it provides an integrated, quantitative, and interdisciplinary approach to the study of environmental systems.[2]

Environmental studies incorporates more of the social sciences for understanding human relationships, perceptions and policies towards the environment. Environmental engineering focuses on design and technology for improving environmental quality in every aspect.

Environmental scientists seek to understand the earth’s physical, chemical, biological, and geological processes, and to use that knowledge to understand how issues such as alternative energy systems, pollution control and mitigation, natural resource management, and the effects of global warming and climate change influence and affect the natural systems and processes of earth. Environmental issues almost always include an interaction of physical, chemical, and biological processes. Environmental scientists bring a systems approach to the analysis of environmental problems. Key elements of an effective environmental scientist include the ability to relate space, and time relationships as well as quantitative analysis.

Environmental science came alive as a substantive, active field of scientific investigation in the 1960s and 1970s driven by (a) the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to analyze complex environmental problems, (b) the arrival of substantive environmental laws requiring specific environmental protocols of investigation and (c) the growing public awareness of a need for action in addressing environmental problems. Events that spurred this development included the publication of Rachel Carson's landmark environmental book Silent Spring[3] along with major environmental issues becoming very public, such as the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, and the Cuyahoga River of Cleveland, Ohio, "catching fire" (also in 1969), and helped increase the visibility of environmental issues and create this new field of study.

Terminology

In common usage, "environmental science" and "ecology" are often used interchangeably, but technically, ecology refers only to the study of organisms and their interactions with each other as well as how they interrelate with environment. Ecology could be considered a subset of environmental science, which also could involve purely chemical or public health issues (for example) ecologists would be unlikely to study. In practice, there are considerable similarities between the work of ecologists and other environmental scientists. There is substantial overlap between ecology and environmental science with the disciplines of fisheries, forestry, and wildlife.

Components

Blue Marble composite images generated by NASA in 2001 (left) and 2002 (right)
The Earth's atmosphere

Atmospheric sciences

Atmospheric sciences focus on the Earth's atmosphere, with an emphasis upon its interrelation to other systems. Atmospheric sciences can include studies of meteorology, greenhouse gas phenomena, atmospheric dispersion modeling of airborne contaminants,[4][5] sound propagation phenomena related to noise pollution, and even light pollution.

Taking the example of the global warming phenomena, physicists create computer models of atmospheric circulation and infrared radiation transmission, chemists examine the inventory of atmospheric chemicals and their reactions, biologists analyze the plant and animal contributions to carbon dioxide fluxes, and specialists such as meteorologists and oceanographers add additional breadth in understanding the atmospheric dynamics.

Ecology

Copyright (c) 2004 Richard Ling, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Biodiversity of a coral reef. Corals adapt and modify their environment by forming calcium carbonate skeletons. This provides growing conditions for future generations and forms a habitat for many other species.

As defined by the Ecological Society of America, "Ecology is the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment; it seeks to understand the vital connections between plants and animals and the world around them."[6] Ecologists might investigate the relationship between a population of organisms and some physical characteristic of their environment, such as concentration of a chemical; or they might investigate the interaction between two populations of different organisms through some symbiotic or competitive relationship. For example, an interdisciplinary analysis of an ecological system which is being impacted by one or more stressors might include several related environmental science fields. In an estuarine setting where a proposed industrial development could impact certain species by water and air pollution, biologists would describe the flora and fauna, chemists would analyze the transport of water pollutants to the marsh, physicists would calculate air pollution emissions and geologists would assist in understanding the marsh soils and bay muds.

Environmental chemistry

Environmental chemistry is the study of chemical alterations in the environment. Principal areas of study include soil contamination and water pollution. The topics of analysis include chemical degradation in the environment, multi-phase transport of chemicals (for example, evaporation of a solvent containing lake to yield solvent as an air pollutant), and chemical effects upon biota.

As an example study, consider the case of a leaking solvent tank which has entered the habitat soil of an endangered species of amphibian. As a method to resolve or understand the extent of soil contamination and subsurface transport of solvent, a computer model would be implemented. Chemists would then characterize the molecular bonding of the solvent to the specific soil type, and biologists would study the impacts upon soil arthropods, plants, and ultimately pond-dwelling organisms that are the food of the endangered amphibian.

Geosciences

Geosciences include environmental geology, environmental soil science, volcanic phenomena and evolution of the Earth's crust. In some classification systems this can also include hydrology, including oceanography.

As an example study, of soils erosion, calculations would be made of surface runoff by soil scientists. Fluvial geomorphologists would assist in examining sediment transport in overland flow. Physicists would contribute by assessing the changes in light transmission in the receiving waters. Biologists would analyze subsequent impacts to aquatic flora and fauna from increases in water turbidity.

© Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)
Open-pit coal mining at Garzweiler, Germany

Regulations driving the studies

Environmental science examines the effects of humans on nature, such as the Glen Canyon Dam in the United States

In the United States the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 set forth requirements for analysis of federal government actions (such as highway construction projects and land management decisions) in terms of specific environmental criteria.[7] Numerous state laws have echoed these mandates, applying the principles to local-scale actions. The upshot has been an explosion of documentation and study of environmental consequences before the fact of development actions.

One can examine the specifics of environmental science by reading examples of Environmental Impact Statements prepared under NEPA such as: Wastewater treatment expansion options discharging into the San Diego/Tijuana Estuary, Expansion of the San Francisco International Airport, Development of the Houston, Metro Transportation system, Expansion of the metropolitan Boston MBTA transit system, and Construction of Interstate 66 through Arlington, Virginia.

In England and Wales the Environment Agency (EA),[8] formed in 1996, is a public body for protecting and improving the environment and enforces the regulations listed on the communities and local government site.[9] (formerly the office of the deputy prime minister). The agency was set up under the Environment Act 1995 as an independent body and works closely with UK Government to enforce the regulations.

See also

References

  1. ^ Eddy, Matthew Daniel (2008). The Language of Mineralogy: John Walker, Chemistry and the Edinburgh Medical School 1750-1800. Ashgate.
  2. ^ Environmental Science: Iowa State University. Environmental Sciences provides an integrated and interdisciplinary approach to understand and mitigate hazards arising from anthropogenic and natural activities by focusing on key areas of environmental chemistry, earth sciences, environmental engineering, atmospheric sciences, and sustainable systems. http://www.ensci.iastate.edu (Accessed 17 February 2010)
  3. ^ Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962), Mariner Books, 2002,ISBN 0-618-24906-0
  4. ^ Beychok, M.R. (2005). Fundamentals Of Stack Gas Dispersion (4th ed.). author-published. ISBN 0-9644588-0-2.
  5. ^ Turner, D.B. (1994). Workbook of atmospheric dispersion estimates: an introduction to dispersion modeling (2nd ed.). CRC Press. ISBN 1-56670-023-X.
  6. ^ "What is ecology?". Ecological Society of America. 2020. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  7. ^ "A Citizen's Guide to the National Environmental Policy Act". Washington, D.C.: U.S. Council on Environmental Quality. 2007.
  8. ^ "Environment Agency". GOV.UK. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  9. ^ "Communities and Local Government: Environment". Ministry of Communities & Local Government, UK. Archived from the original on 12 August 2007.

External links

Media files used on this page

The Earth seen from Apollo 17 with transparent background.png
"The Blue Marble" is a famous photograph of the Earth taken on December 7, 1972 by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft en route to the Moon at a distance of about 29,000 kilometers (18,000 statute miles). It shows Africa, Antarctica, and the Arabian Peninsula.
The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg
"The Blue Marble" is a famous photograph of the Earth taken on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft en route to the Moon at a distance of about 29,000 kilometres (18,000 mi). It shows Africa, Antarctica, and the Arabian Peninsula.
Top of Atmosphere.jpg
View of the crescent moon through the top of the Earth's atmosphere. Photographed above 21.5°N, 113.3°E by International Space Station crew Expedition 13 over the South China Sea, just south of Macau (NASA image ID: ISS013-E-54329).
Glen Canyon Dam & Lake Powell.jpg
(c) BoNoMoJo (old) at the English-language Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Photograph of Glen Canyon Dam & Lake Powell
Blue Linckia Starfish.JPG
Copyright (c) 2004 Richard Ling, CC-BY-SA-3.0
A Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata) resting on hard Acropora and Porites corals (one can also see Anthiinae fish and crinoids). Lighthouse, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef.
BlueMarble-2001-2002.jpg
NASA created these two images to exhibit high-resolution global composites of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data. The land surface data were acquired from June through September of 2001. The clouds were acquired on two separate days--July 29, 2001, for the northern hemisphere and November 16, 2001 for the southern hemisphere. The images were rendered in Electric Image and composited in Adobe Photoshop in late January, 2002.

For more information and access to high resolution texture maps, visit: The Blue Marble

Western Hemisphere (2048 by 2048 JPEG)
Eastern Hemisphere (2048 by 2048 JPEG) Originally uploaded to english wikipedia 14 March 2004 by Seth Ilys.

High resolution version made by User:Apoc2400 from globe_west_2048.tif and globe_east_2048.tif.
Tagebau Garzweiler Panorama 2005.jpg
© Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)
Panorama of open-pit mining Garzweiler, Germany