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Friday, November 7, 2008

Environmental science

Environmental science is an expression encompassing the wide range of scientific disciplines that need to be brought together to understand and manage the natural environment and the many interactions among physical, chemical, and biological components. Environmental Science provides an integrated, quantitative, and interdisciplinary approach to the study of environmental systems. Individuals may operate as Environmental scientists or a group of scientists may work together pooling their individual skills. Perhaps the most common model for the delivery of Environmental science is through the work of an individual scientist or small team drawing on the peer-reviewed, published work of many other scientists throughout the world.

The role of Environmental Science

The work of Environmental Science describes the environment, interprets the impact of human actions (anthropogenic effects) on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and develops strategies for restoring ecosystems. In addition, environmental scientists help planners develop and construct buildings, transportation corridors, and utilities that protect water resources and reflect efficient and beneficial land use. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of environmental science, teams of professionals commonly work together to conduct environmental research or to produce Environmental Impact Statements. Other professional organizations engender work in environmental science and aid in communication among the diverse sciences.

Since most environmental issues deal with human activities, study of economics, law and social sciences are often applied in conjunction with Environmental Science.

Environmental science encompasses issues such as climate change, conservation, biodiversity, water quality, groundwater contamination , soil contamination, use of natural resources, waste management, sustainable development, disaster reduction, air pollution, and noise pollution.

While the environment has been studied for at least as long as there has been science, the recent interest in putting the pieces of understanding together to study environmental systems has come alive as a substantive, active field of scientific investigation starting in the 1960s and 1970s. This has been driven by the need for a large multi-disciplined team to analyze complex environmental problems, the arrival of substantive environmental laws requiring specific environmental protocols of investigation, and growing public awareness of a need for action in addressing environmental problems.

Components of environmental science

* Atmospheric sciences examine the Earth's gaseous outer layer with emphasis upon interrelation to other systems. Atmospheric sciences comprises meteorological studies, greenhouse gas phenomena, atmospheric dispersion modeling of airborne contaminants, sound propagation phenomena related to noise pollution, and even light pollution.

Taking the example of the global warming phenomena, physicists create computer models of atmospheric circulation and infra-red radiation transmission, chemists examine the inventory of atmospheric chemicals and their reactions, biologists analyze the plant and animal contributions to carbon dioxide and other gaseous components such as methane, and specialists such as meteorologists and oceanographers add additional breadth in understanding the atmospheric dynamics.

* Ecology studies typically describe the relationships between living organisms and their specific biome. These studies could address endangered species, predator/prey interactions, habitat integrity, effects upon populations by environmental contaminants, or impact analysis of proposed land development upon species viability.

An interdisciplinary analysis of an ecological system which is being impacted by one or more stressors might include several related environmental science fields. For example one might examine an estuarine setting where a proposed industrial development could impact certain species by water pollution and air pollution. For this study biologists would describe the flora and fauna, chemists would analyze the transport of water pollutants to the marsh, physicists would calculate air pollution emissions and geologists would assist in understanding the marsh soils and bay muds.

* Environmental chemistry is the study of chemical alterations in the environment. Principal areas of study include soil contamination and water pollution. The topics of analysis involve chemical degradation in the environment, multi-phase transport of chemicals (for example, evaporation of a solvent containing lake to yield solvent as an air pollutant), and chemical effects upon biota.

As an example study, consider the case of a leaking solvent tank which has entered the soil upgradient of a habitat of an endangered species of amphibian. Physicists would develop a computer model to understand the extent of soil contamination and subsurface transport of solvent, chemists would analyze the molecular bonding of the solvent to the specific soil type and biologists would study the impacts upon soil arthropods, plants and ultimately pond dwelling copepods who are the food of the endangered amphibian.

* Geosciences include environmental geology, environmental soil science, hydrology, physical geography, climatology, and geomorphology. It may also embrace oceanography and other related fields.

Geophysicist from the deparment of earth science at Aarhus University doing Electrical techniques (DC/IP) to measure groundwater contamination at a dumpsite at Ulbjerg in Denmark.

As an example study of soils erosion, calculations would be made of surface runoff by soil scientists. Hydrologists would assist in examining sediment transport in overland flow. Physicists would contribute by assessing the changes in light transmission in the receiving waters. Biologists would analyze subsequent impacts to aquatic flora and fauna from increases in water turbidity.

* Environmental assessment is the process of appraisal through which environmental protection and sustainable development may be considered. Environmental assessments typically involve collection of field data, this can be from stakeholders and the ambient environment, and serves to harmonize the linkages between the different branches of the environment and development.

* Environmental microbiology is the study of the composition and physiology of microbial communities in the environment. The environment in this case means the soil, water, air and sediments covering the planet and can also include the animals and plants that inhabit these areas. Environmental microbiology also includes the study of microorganisms that exist in artificial environments such as bioreactors.

* Environmental biology focuses specifically on the effects of environmental conditions on biological systems. Although it incorporates aspects of environmental science such as geochemistry and ecology, studies are focused on individual organisms, their biological processes, and their genetics. In addition, environmental biology incorporates the ideas of global change and conservation biology to encourage the conservation of biodiversity. Tulane University of New Orleans offers a B.S. in Environmental Biology distinct from the B.S. in Environmental Science.

* Environmental pollution deals with the various types of pollution and their impacts. Environmental pollution deals with the sources of pollution, impact on humans and other organisms including flora and fauna and opportunities for elimination or mitigation and proper management in the future.

Regulations driving the studies

United states of America

In the U.S. the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 set forth requirements for analysis of major projects in terms of specific environmental criteria including environmental impact statements. Numerous state laws have echoed these mandates, applying the principles to local scale actions. The upshot has been an explosion of documentation and study of environmental consequences before the fact of development actions.


The European Union had formulated a number of directives which require environmental assessments as part of their overall brief. These include the Urban Waste-waters Directive, the Habitats Directive and the Water framework directive.


In England and Wales there are two principal agencies responsible for providing an integrated view of the environment and with a mandate to improve and protect specific environments and communities. These are the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England. In Scotland similar functions are carries out the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) . The EA and SEPA between them enforce the regulations listed on the communities and local government site (formerly the office of the deputy prime minister) which help drive the application of environmental science to UK environmental issues.

Universities in the UK are also greatly involved in the application of environmental science across the world with large number of studies and contracts in every continent.


"Environmental science" and "ecology" are different fields of study, although there is some overlap due to the multidisciplinary nature of environmental science. Ecology is the study of the interrelations of living organisms, whether at the population, community, or ecosystem level, and of the relationships between organisms and their environment. In contrast, environmental science is a broad area of study encompassing both biological and physical concepts including diverse areas such as geology, agronomy, meteorology, atmospheric chemistry, soil chemistry, water chemistry, systems modeling, and biological responses of systems to anthropogenic influence. In environmental science these areas of study are integrated and applied to address issues such as water quality, air quality, and soil quality).

Career outlook

The magnitude and complexity of environmental problems are creating a growing need for scientists with rigorous, interdisciplinary training in environmental science. In the Unites States, the majority of Environmental Scientists are employed in governmental positions.

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