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Why Use Earth System Science in the Classroom?

Initial Publication Date: February 6, 2006

Earth system science offers compelling and relevant examples of the application of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the world around us, a course of study that students can relate to as part of their lives. Weather, climate and natural hazards, all controlled by the Earth system, play key roles in everyone's day to day life. ESS provides an excellent opportunity to consider broad interrelationships among disciplines, and between the natural and social sciences, humanities and the arts.

Earth system science gives students permission to explore far ranging interdisciplinary topics and connect them to a common problem or situation. For example, natural coastal processes have been shaping shorelines for millennia, but these processes take on new significance when people and property are considered. Population demographics, habitat changes, resource management, air and water quality, archeology, transportation, storm surge engineering - all can be related to natural Earth system coastal processes, and lend relevance and urgency to coastal process studies thereby potentially improving student interest and ownership of concepts and content.


Earth system science offers natural avenues for combining research and education, and promotes inquiry into the complex world around us. The broad perspective that Earth system science offers promotes an inclusive approach to student interest - there is something for everyone, especially in general and non-major courses. Some have incorporated a role playing or summit approach, dividing a class into teams representing nations or interest groups (e.g. at the http://www.crseo.ucsb.edu/esrg/Geog135.html)

Earth imagery collected by orbiting spacecraft or the astronauts can often be used to explain the context and extent of Earth processes and phenomena, disciplinary and interdisciplinary. The view from space reveals the San Andreas and Garlock fault system, or the stark contrasts in vegetation based on land use related to demographics, or the complexities of air/water interaction around the Hawaiian Islands. No part of the Earth's surface is hidden, offering limitless opportunity for questions that may lead the student to seek deeper understanding.

For more information, see the report "Why Use an Earth System Science Approach to Education" within Shaping the Future of Undergraduate Earth Science Education

San Andreas