|What is "Earth System Science"?|
ViewpointEarth system science views the Earth as a synergistic physical system of interrelated phenomena, governed by complex processes involving the geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and. biosphere. Fundamental to the Earth system science approach is the need to emphasize relevant interactions of chemical, physical, biological and dynamical processes that extend over spatial scales from microns to the size of planetary orbits, and over time scales of milliseconds to billions of years. In building on the traditional disciplines to study the Earth, the system approach has become widely accepted as a framework from which to pose disciplinary and interdisciplinary questions in relationship to humankind. Earth system science forms the foundation of NASA’s Earth science vision as well as the basis of the NSF geoscience long range planning effort as part of the nation’s global change research objectives
State, Process, and Understanding of the Earth SystemIn his JGE paper entitled “Earth System Science: A Model for Teaching Science as State, Process and Understanding” (Johnson, 2006), Professor Emeritus Don Johnson presents views on how educators might approach the teaching of science with the complex Earth system as a sophisticated target for learning. Each aspect of science learning can focus on the state of an object or system, and the process that object or system undergoes. Understanding of each topic focus builds integrated understanding of simple and complex systems. For example, understanding the interesting behavior of pool balls colliding on a pool table can start with identifying the state of the system under consideration. Pool balls are: spherical, solid, rigid, and of uniform density. The process they undergo in, say, a simple shot of one such ball against another – with consideration of bounces off the table edges – would involve consideration of both linear and angular momentum, and conservation thereof. Students can come to understand a great deal about very basic science by examining the game of pool in terms of state and process.
In modern Earth system science, consideration of both state and process is very much more complex, yet very much more exciting to students. Our knowledge of the state of the Earth system has advanced dramatically since the launch of the first earth satellites into space in the 1960s. The earliest launches carried observing equipment analogous to simple cameras, taking many pictures of the planet from positions in outer space. The coherent merging of photos into a global view taught scientists a lot about the overall state of the planet – in comparison to the thousands of independent and uncorrelated scientific observations of local aspects of the Earth system that preceded the space age. The evolution of remote sensing science and technology since this first step has been extraordinary. Instruments for remote sensing and techniques for interpreting remote sensing data have evolved to the point where a fully 4-dimensional time-space monitoring of many scientific variables of the Earth system is standard operating procedure for determining the state of the Earth system. The mathematics, physics, and chemistry of this 4-dimensional observation of the state of the Earth system fascinates people with good education in these disciplinary subjects. More information about remote sensing appears in this Design Guide in: Data, Tools, and Models
The merging of disciplinary science into interdisciplinary Earth system science has also provided an enormous increase in our understanding of Earth system process. In his paper, Johnson remarks:
“Clearly, an improved specification of the initial state of the atmosphere globally was essential to advancing medium range weather prediction. Here the improved specification of the initial state in combination with the use of numerical models to simulate process led not only to remarkable advances in forecast accuracy, but also equally important to unusual advances in scientific understanding of atmospheric and oceanic circulations as well as the relevance of the biosphere and lithosphere in the specification of boundary conditions for weather and climate prediction. Here the inseparable elements of science - state, process and understanding – emerged together through the computational merging of satellite and conventional observations utilizing the world's most advanced computers and satellite communications.”
More information about modeling appears in this Design Guide in: Data, Tools, and Models/Modeling-Visualization
Earth system science provides an excellent pathway to developing a deeper understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Additional information on this subject can be founds in this Design Guide in: Pathways to STEM Education
Process Interaction Across Disciplinary BoundariesWithin the concept of the Earth as a complex and dynamic entity involving the disciplinary spheres for land, air, water and life, there is no process or phenomenon that occurs in complete isolation from other elements of the system. While this system view is elegant and satisfying philosophically, the challenge to researchers and educators attempting to quantify the breadth of the system’s elements, states and processes within the classroom is enormous. No individual, academic department or university is capable of developing and offering the enormous depth and breadth of knowledge such a paradigm demands. Only by joining faculty from different disciplines within and among universities can the diversity and complexity of Earth system science be fully appreciated.
The Challenge to EducatorsThe challenge for educators to develop and offer courses in the classroom that provide this deeper understanding is demanding. Earth system science seeks to construct an overarching interdisciplinary framework of process and state of the system, and at the same time retain the strength of traditional disciplines for understanding fundamentals and complex interactions. Colleges and universities have been attracted by this holistic approach to studying the Earth and adopt Earth system science as a theme. In developing and offering introductory and advanced courses which are relevant to the broader interests of faculty and students, the challenge is to provide the necessary depth and breadth needed to serve as a foundation for advanced study among majors, and lay the foundations for sustainability and informed stewardship in striving for an Earthaware society.
ESSE Design Guide References:In addition to material provided in the subsections of this “Framework/Earth System Science” section of the Design Guide, more detailed ideas can be examined in the “Teaching, Learning, and Evaluation” by quick links below:
Teaching, Learning and Evaluation/ESS Learning Objectives/Conceptual Systems Framework
Johnson, D.R., 2006, Earth System Science: A Model for Teaching Science as State, Process and Understanding?, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 54, p. 202-207
|< Prev||Next >|