Methods of Investigation used by Geoscientists
Key Geoscience Research Methods
- Comparing products of modern processes to those found in the past: Connecting the present to the past was encoded in the geosciences in the 1800's with the development of the concept of uniformitarianism. But Earth scientists go far beyond what was originally conceived by James Hutton and codified by Charles Lyell. Today, we study rocks, sediments, ice - any records we can find that record fluctuations of key parameters in the past. Examples include:
- Monitoring and measuring the behavior of modern turbidity currents and deposits to understand deep sea rocks that now host natural resources
- Developing physical models of deltas to understand ancient delta deposits
- Studying past extinction and rapid climate change events to better understand current climate change and its potential effects
- Studying geographically or temporally specific examples to deduce underlying processes: Earth scientists work with a single planet, and must develop an understanding of fundamental processes from an historical record and modern processes. As a result, time and location are critically important in determining which examples are important and interesting. Examples include
- Studying the occurrence of large earthquakes to determine the physical processes that result in the generation of tsunamis.
- Studying stratigraphic sections around the world that cross a single event, such as a mass extinction, to determine the nature and extent of the event.
- Developing multiple converging lines of inherently incomplete data: Earth scientists are very aware that the rock record provides a very limited window into the past, and multiple lines of evidence are required to test any hypotheses. As a result, collaboration is an essential component of Earth science, bringing people together with different areas of expertise. Examples include:
- Seismologists conducting an experiment to see structures at depth working with geologists who map features at the surface.
- Climate scientists working with geomorphologists to model the effects of changing rainfall patterns on the evolution of the landscape.
Activities that highlight Geoscience Methods
Unit 6: Hydrologic Balance and Climate Change
Kirsten Menking, Vassar College
Unit 3: Simple Climate Models
Louisa Bradtmiller, Macalester College
Unit 5: Growth and Decay of Ice Sheets
David Bice, Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
Unit 4: Impacts of Environmental Change on Organisms: Horses
Camille Holmgren, SUNY Buffalo State University
Unit 2.2 - Basic Critical Zone Concepts
Ashlee Dere, University of Nebraska at Omaha; Susan Gill, Stroud Water Research Center
Unit 2: Climate Forcings
Sandra Penny, Russell Sage College; Eric Leibensperger, Ithaca College
Unit 3: Dynamic Integrated Climate Economy (DICE) Modeling
Sandra Penny, Russell Sage College; Gautam Sethi, Bard College; Robyn Smyth, Bard College
High Precision Positioning with Static and Kinematic GPS
High Precision Positioning with Static and Kinematic GPS/GNSS Benjamin Crosby (Idaho State University) Ian Lauer (Idaho State University) Editor: Beth Pratt-Sitaula (EarthScope Consortium)
Unit 4: Irrigation and Groundwater Mining
Chris Sinton, Ithaca College
Unit 5: Agriculture and Freshwater Pollution
Chris Sinton, Ithaca College
Module 2: A Global Glance at the Geology of Coastal Landscapes
mark kulp, University of New Orleans
Module 1: The Societies and Economics of Coastal Regions
diane maygarden, University of New Orleans
When testing hypotheses using these strategies, Earth scientists may collect detailed descriptions, perform experiments, develop models, and compare descriptions and results (for more information about these methods, see additional resources. The ultimate test of the hypothesis, however, is its ability to explain the observations from the natural world (Manduca and Kastens, 2012) . Those observations may take the form of descriptions of rock types or soils in the field, laboratory measurements of the age of a rock, satellite observations of ocean temperatures, etc.
Teaching the methods of investigation
The single most important thing you can do in your teaching is to be explicit in highlighting and describing the methods you are using.
Additional resources about the methods of science at Visionlearning
- Read more about observation and description as a method of hypothesis testing in Description in Scientific Research
- Read more about Modeling in Scientific Research
- Read more about Experimentation in Scientific Research
- Read more about Comparison in Scientific Research
- Read more about Scientists and the Scientific Community, Scientific Institutions and Societies, and The How and Why of Scientific Meetings