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Why Design an Earth System Science Course?

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The Earth system approach has emerged as a dominant paradigm in Earth and space science research. Environmental pressures, such as global climate change, have stimulated the development of new fields of study requiring scientists who operate across traditional disciplinary boundaries. Earth system science provides a unifying framework to structure interdisciplinary training.

Building Technological Capacity

The Earth system approach evolved with our technological capacity to remotely-sense planetary change. Students and scientists alike now have tremendous access to sensed imagery and datasets, satellite photography, and scientific visualizations. These resources provide an unprecedented opportunity for students to conduct authentic research and gain technical and analytical skills within the context of introductory-level coursework.


Earth system science courses support holistic undergraduate education goals. Pedagogic research indicates student learning is supported by engagement in "authentic" science experiences such as collecting, analyzing and manipulating data. Further, Earth system science emphasizes detailed analysis of the interconnections and feedbacks between subsystems, an activity that stimulates cognitive development and decision-making capability.

Scientific Literacy

One of the prevalent misconceptions among non-scientists is that environmental problems and solutions are simpler than they really are. Earth system science teaches students to extend analysis beyond the primary causal or forcing relationships observed, and seek to identify and understand feedbacks and interconnections hidden in other spheres of the Earth system. Importantly, the analytical skill sets employed by students in an Earth system science course are critical to development of a deep understanding of the environmental issues that threaten the health of our biosphere. Introductory Earth system science courses are critical to global scientific literacy

This is covered in more detail by Why use an Earth system science approach in the classroom Module also in Starting Point.