Portal:Earth sciences

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Introduction

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Earth Science is the branch that deals with physical constitution of the Earth and its atmosphere. Earth sciences (also known as geoscience, the geosciences or Earth Science) is an all-embracing term for the sciences related to the planet Earth. They are a special type of planetary sciences which deal with the structure and composition of the Earth, its origins, physical features, changing aspects, and all of its natural phenomena. Earth is the only planet known to have life, and hence the only planet with biological processes and a biosphere.

The major disciplines of Earth sciences use physics, mathematics, and chemistry to build a quantitative understanding of the principal areas or spheres of the Earth system. As in many sciences, the Earth can be studied both experimentally and theoretically. Also, there are both reductionist and holistic approaches to Earth Science.

Although mining and precious stones have been in human interests throughout the history of civilization, their development into the sciences of economic geology and mineralogy did not occur until the 18th century. The study of the earth, particularly palaeontology, blossomed in the 19th century and the growth of other disciplines like geophysics in the 20th century led to the development of the theory of plate tectonics in the 1960s, which has had a similar impact on the Earth sciences as the theory of evolution had on biology. Earth sciences today are closely linked to climate research and the petroleum and mineral exploration industries.

Applications of Earth sciences include the exploration and exploitation of mineral and hydrocarbon resources, cartography, weather forecasting patterns, and warning of volcanic eruptions. Earth sciences are related to the environmental sciences as well as the other subfields of planetary astronomy.

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Fossil of complete Archaeopteryx, including indentations of feathers on wings and tail
Archaeopteryx (/ˌɑːrkˈɒptərks/ AR-kee-OP-tər-iks), sometimes referred to by its German name Urvogel ("original bird" or "first bird"), is a genus of early bird that is transitional between feathered dinosaurs and modern birds. The name derives from the ancient Greek ἀρχαῖος (archaīos) meaning "ancient", and πτέρυξ (ptéryx), meaning "feather" or "wing". Since the late nineteenth century, it had been generally accepted by palaeontologists, and celebrated in lay reference works, as being the oldest known bird (member of the group Avialae). However, older potential avialans have since been identified, including Anchiornis, Xiaotingia, and Aurornis.

Archaeopteryx lived in the Late Jurassic period around 150 million years ago, in what is now southern Germany during a time when Europe was an archipelago of islands in a shallow warm tropical sea, much closer to the equator than it is now. Similar in shape to a European Magpie, with the largest individuals possibly attaining the size of a raven, Archaeopteryx could grow to about 0.5 m (1 ft 8 in) in length. Despite its small size, broad wings, and inferred ability to fly or glide, Archaeopteryx has more in common with other small Mesozoic dinosaurs than it does with modern birds. In particular, it shares the following features with the deinonychosaurs (dromaeosaurs and troodontids): jaws with sharp teeth, three fingers with claws, a long bony tail, hyperextensible second toes ("killing claw"), feathers (which also suggest homeothermy), and various skeletal features.

These features make Archaeopteryx a clear candidate for a transitional fossil between dinosaurs and birds. Thus, Archaeopteryx plays an important role, not only in the study of the origin of birds, but in the study of dinosaurs. It was named from a feather in 1861. That same year, the first complete specimen of Archaeopteryx was announced. Over the years, ten more fossils of Archaeopteryx have surfaced. Despite variation among these fossils, most experts regard all the remains that have been discovered as belonging to a single species, although this is still debated.

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Sihlsee
Credit: Markus Bernet

Northern shore meadows of Sihlsee, an artificial lake near Einsiedeln in the Canton of Schwyz, Switzerland.

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