Earth Sciences

Earth sciences is an umbrella term for several fields of study and work, including geography, geology, meteorology, and oceanography. Each of these fields shares a common goal: studying a particular aspect of the Earth or atmosphere in order to improve our understanding and abilities to manage our natural resources.

Over the last 50 years, humankind has come to realize that Earth's resources are not limitless. Reserves of most fossil fuels dwindled toward the end of the 20th century. With the practice of hydraulic fracturing (drilling into shale formations using water), both natural gas and oil reserves have increased dramatically domestically and abroad. But even these have an end point. Throughout the world, many people have become sick because of lack of clean drinking water, and as populations continue to increase, the need for plentiful and safe water escalates. Climate change has also affected the world's weather, and scientists have sought to understand the changes, their impacts, and how to deal with them. All of these issues, plus many others, are what drive workers in the Earth sciences industry. Geography is most concerned with studying and mapping the topographical details of the Earth's surface. Geographers and other earth sciences professionals use geographic information systems technology to map, manipulate, store, and selectively retrieve geographic data. They use this data for a variety of purposes, such as business planning, studying disease outbreaks or epidemics, environmental planning, or natural resource management. Approximately 1,400 geographers worked in the United States in 2014, according to the Department of Labor (DOL).

The field of geology is most concerned with the composition and features of the Earth under the surface. Workers in this field study the layers of the Earth to its core and examine rock formations and the chemical composition of the Earth's crust and layers. Workers seek to understand and predict earthquakes, as well as deposits of natural resources. The DOL reported that about 36,400 geoscientists were employed in 2014, including geologists.

Meteorology is focused in the opposite direction from geologists: the atmosphere. They seek to study and understand how weather happens in order to help people prepare for it. Meteorologists also study the climate throughout the Earth on a historical basis, to determine what has changed and what has been impacted by any changes. Oceanography focuses studying the oceans and exploring the interaction between the seas, weather, and climate. In 2014, about 11,800 atmospheric scientists, including meteorology and oceanography, held jobs in the United States, according to the DOL.

Those employed in Earth science fields are usually scientists, engineers, or technicians. Many of them work for universities or other academic or scientific institutions, while others work for private companies or the government. Other employees in the field are lab technicians, data analysts or programmers, and administrators and field operation managers. While this field does not have a significant impact on the economy when it comes to numbers of people it employs, it can have a dramatic impact on the economy when it comes to results; much of the world's economy is based on oil availability and pricing.

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