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Portal:Earth sciences

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The Earth Sciences Portal

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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Ground fire at Grant Village
The Yellowstone fires of 1988 together formed the largest wildfire in the recorded history of Yellowstone National Park. Starting as many smaller individual fires, the flames spread quickly out of control with increasing winds and drought and combined into one large conflagration, which burned for several months. It was finally extinguished by moist weather in the late fall. A total of 793,880 acres (3,213 km2), or roughly 36 percent of the park was affected by the wildfires. Thousands of firefighters fought the fires, assisted by dozens of helicopters and airplanes which were used for water and fire retardant drops. At the peak of the effort, over 9,000 firefighters were assigned to the park. With fires raging throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and other areas in the western United States, the staffing levels of the National Park Service and other land management agencies were inadequate to the situation. Over 4,000 U.S. Military personnel were soon assisting in fire suppression efforts. The fire fighting effort cost $120 million. No firefighters died while fighting the fires in Yellowstone, though there were two fire-related deaths outside the park. The Yellowstone fires of 1988 were unprecedented in the history of the National Park Service, and many questioned existing fire management policies. Media accounts of mismanagement were often sensational and inaccurate, sometimes wrongly reporting that most of the park was being destroyed. While there were temporary declines in air quality during the fires, no adverse long-term health effects have been recorded in the ecosystem. Contrary to initial reports, few large mammals were killed by the fires, though there has been a reduction in the number of moose which has yet to rebound. Losses to structures were minimized by concentrating fire fighting efforts near major visitor areas, keeping property damage down to $3 million.

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Full Moon partially obscured by the atmosphere of Earth.
Credit: NASA

Astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery recorded this rarely seen phenomenon of the full Moon partially obscured by the atmosphere of Earth. The image was recorded with an electronic still camera at 15:15:15 GMT, Dec. 21, 1999

Did you know?

Photograph of volcano
  • ...that a tuya (pictured) is a type of flat-topped, steep-sided volcano formed when lava erupts through a thick glacier or ice sheet?
  • ...that in the United States, on average tornadoes are around 500 feet (150 m) across, and stay on the ground for 5 miles (8 km)?
  • ...that dust storms can carry large amounts of dust, so much so that the leading edge of one can appear as a solid wall of dust as much as 1.6 km (1 mile) high?
  • ...that the area of the world Ocean is 361 million square  kilometers, its volume is approximately 1.3 billion cubic kilometers, and its average depth is 3,790 meters?
  • ...that three quarters of the earth's atmosphere lies within the troposphere, and the depth of this layer varies between 17 km at the equator and 7 km at the poles?
  • ...that the Mariana Trench is the deepest point in the ocean?

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For a more comprehensive treatment of topics, see Outline of earth science and Index of earth science articles

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