115 BRANCHES OF EARTH SCIENCE
Studying our planet is such a vast topic because of all the branches of Earth Science.
For example, geology, botany and astronomy just barely scratch the surface of the branches of Earth Science.
Because in order to define Earth Science and its interconnectedness, we need a complete list of Earth Science branches that encapsulates the topic in full.
Well, look no further because we have brainstormed an outline of 115 branches of Earth Science. And each branch of Earth Science is placed where they fit best.
Astronomy is the all-encompassing term that studies everything outside of Earth’s atmosphere. Then, we can divide astronomy into 4 sub-fields:
- ASTRONOMY – The study of celestial objects and phenomena
- ASTROPHYSICS – Applying the laws of physics in space
- ASTROMETRY – Mapping celestial bodies
- ASTROGEOLOGY – Examining rocks, terrain and material in space
- ASTROBIOLOGY – Searching for life outside Earth
And we can categorize into 17 branches of astronomy.
ASTRONOMY > ASTROPHYSICS
Astrophysics applies the principles of physics to astronomy. Cosmology is different from astrophysics because it studies the expansion and evolution of the universe. For example, cosmologists study red-shift to see how fast the universe is expanding.
Spectroscopy studies how light reflects, absorbs and transfers between matter. In a similar manner, photometry examines how luminous astronomical objects are in space based on electromagnetic radiation properties. Asteroseismology and helioseismology both study oscillations.
Finally, heliophysics studies the sun’s constant and dynamic radiation affects its surroundings in space. There’s been various heliophysics missions to study space weather, solar flares and the constant stream of solar particles from the sun.
ASTRONOMY > ASTROMETRY
Instead of the physics that drives motion in space, astrometry focuses on the precise position of celestial bodies. It also provides a frame of reference for the movement of stars and individual objects in space.
On a similar note, exoplanetology inventories how many and where planets exist outside of our solar system. This inventory of planets lists all potential residences for new life outside of Earth
Planetary science (planetology) is concerned with how planets form in the solar systems including their composition and dynamics in history. This subject is tied closely to planetary geology.
ASTRONOMY > ASTROGEOLOGY
When the Mars Rover started wheeling around the red planet, its crosshairs were targeting the rocks and geology of Mars. Specifically, it was getting a close-up of the composition or areology of Mars.
Astrogeology is very closely related to exogeology. They both focus on how geology relates to celestial bodies like moons, asteroids, meteorites and comets.
Lastly, selenography studies the physical features of moon. For example, it understands and catalogs features such as lunar maria, craters and mountain ranges on the moon.
ASTRONOMY > ASTROBIOLOGY
Astrobiology involves the search for life outside Earth. It also asks the questions: What is the origin and evolution of life? Is there life on other planets? Which environments can support life?
If you want to measure the probability of life in space, exobiology considers planetary conditions for life. For example, exobiology also understands early evolution of life and the biological/environmental factors to advance life.
Lastly, astrobiology pulls from astrochemistry to better understand substances in celestial bodies, stars and interstellar space. Observing molecules in space gives a solid indication to the physical conditions to what we are used to on present day Earth.
Geology is the study and science of Earth’s land forms. This includes how they were created, have changed over time and how they will evolve.
There are several branches of geology that have more focus. We divide geology into the following sub-fields:
- GEOLOGY – The study of physical features and the processes that act on their development.
- CHRONOLOGY – Studying layers of rock as it relates to geologic time
- TECTONICS – Applying the principles of plate tectonics to geology
- NATURAL RESOURCES – Examining rocks, terrain and material as natural resources
- SEDIMENTOLOGY – Understanding erosion, movement and deposition of sediments
- TOPOGRAPHY – Mapping terrain and processes that act on it
- ASTROGEOLOGY – Classifying rocks and land forms outside Earth
Even though, you can slice and dice geology in different ways…. here’s how we’ve divided the branches of geology.
GEOLOGY > CHRONOLOGY
These branches of geology specifically deal with time. Whether it’s fossils, magnetic fields or types of landforms, they are often concerned with reconstructing the past.
This is why “Paleo” is common in these fields of study. Paleo is short for ”paleolithic” which often refers to the geologic past.
Stratigraphy is concerned with the layering of archaeological remains and their position on layers of rock. For example, magnetostratigraphy studies magnetic fields in rocks and past pole reversals.
GEOLOGY > TECTONICS
Seismology, volcanoes, earthquakes… these branches of geology all have one common theme. The underlying process that impacts them are plate tectonics.
Fields like seismology measures how waves travel through and around Earth from earthquakes. Meanwhile, tectonophysics targets the physical process that act on the behavior of waves.
As tectonics play a key role in volcanoes, volcanology explains how and where volcanoes and related phenomena (lava, magma) erupt and form (past and present).
GEOLOGY > NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
Most geology careers involve the extraction of natural resources from the surface. This is where geologists relate rock types and landforms in a specific environment.
For example, petrology uses mineralogy and rock types to understand geological formations from drilling. In addition, they study the chemical properties and how atoms are arranged.
Soils are also considered a natural resource for agriculture production. Agronomy, edaphology and pomology are specific to soil science and how food grows or is cultivated.
GEOLOGY > SEDIMENTOLOGY
Sedimentology looks at the processes of how sediments deposit. For example, sedimentology is concerned with erosion, weathering, transportation and deposition of sediments.
One of the processes that understands the erosion, movement and deposition of sediments is from glaciers. Specifically, glaciology studies glaciers and how they shape the landforms.
Likewise, surficial geology examines sediments overlying bedrock such as during a glacial retreat. Finally, beneath the regolith is the intact, solid rock that bedrock geology is concerned with.
GEOLOGY > TOPOGRAPHY
Topography also plays an important in geology. Of all the branches of geology, topography examines the physical features that are distributed on the landscape.
For example, orography focuses on topographic relief and how mountains are distributed. Without plate tectonics which is a focal point in geology, mountain building would have not taken place.
Finally, hypsometry measures height and depth of physical features from mean sea level. Geologists use hypsometry to understand the profile of Earth and landscape evolution.
GEOLOGY > ASTROGEOLOGY
When the Mars Rover started wheeling around the red planet, its crosshairs were targeting the rocks and geology of Mars. Specifically, it was getting close-up and personal of the composition of Mars.
Astrogeology is very closely related to exogeology. They both focus on how geology relates to celestial bodies such as moons, asteroids, meteorites and comets.
Lastly, selenography studies the physical features of the moon. For example, it understands and catalogs features such as lunar maria, craters and mountain ranges on the moon.
The branches of biology are plentiful. Biology works with time, disease, ecosystems and even extraterrestrials.
It also works in different scales. From individual atoms to the entire biosphere, biology is also a broad topic.
We divide the branches of biology into the following fields:
- BIOLOGY – How life and living organisms are structured, distributed, originated, evolved and functions.
- CHRONOLOGY – How biology originated, evolves and will adapt as a function of time.
- ECOSYSTEM – How living organisms interact with the physical environment.
- BOTANY – How plants are classified, grow and are managed in nature.
- PATHOLOGY – How disease spread and interact with living organisms.
- ASTROBIOLOGY – How life in the universe originated, evolved and its ultimate fate.
BIOLOGY > PATHOLOGY
Pathology is a whole field dedicated to disease. For example, phytopathology examines how disease spread and are managed for plants. In contrast, the focus of zoopathology is on animal disease spread and prevention.
On a large scale, epidemiology looks into how disease and determinants of health are transferred and distributed in populations. For example, an epidemiologist models a disease outbreak and prevents its spread.
Often, toxicology deals with how individual organisms are affected, treated and diagnosed by poisonous substances. It’s common to test in a laboratory the various substances and materials.
BIOLOGY > CHRONOLOGY
Some fields of biology work with time. For example, ‘paleo’ relates to the past. Over a geologic time scale, biology studies plants (paleobotany), animals (paleozoology) and general organisms (paleoecology).
Evolution biology is one of the most popular branches of biology. It focuses on how life originated, evolved and will transform in the future. For example, primatology makes the connection between primates and humans.
Anthropology is different from paleontology because of their main focus. While anthropologists study how humans and societies behave, paleontologists is primarily concerned with animal and plant fossils.
BIOLOGY > ECOSYSTEM
The ecosystem works together as a collection of different parts. These interactions between the physical environment and living organisms is ecology.
Living organisms can be broken up further into insects (entomology), birds (ornithology) and mammals (mammalogy). And phytogeography and zoogeography best understand how plants and animals are distributed in geographic space.
Phenology involves meteorology to understand botany. More specifically, it inspects seasons and cyclical climate patterns influence plant and animal species.
BIOLOGY > BOTANY
The main focus of botany is plant science. Botany looks at how plants are classified and how they grow in nature. Botany is synonymous with plant science or phytology.
Forestry is specific to how trees are managed, planted, conserved and cut down. Alternatively, dendrology narrows down how trees are managed, planted, conserved and cut down.
Meanwhile, arboriculture studies how individual trees, shrubs, vines, and other woody plants respond to cultural practices in the environment.
BIOLOGY > ASTROBIOLOGY
The main focus of astrobiology how life in the universe originated. Instead of life on Earth, astrobiology considers extraterrestrial life forms and the ultimate fate of the universe.
If you want to pinpoint the possibility of life in space, exobiology estimates how likely life exists on other planets. If there are extraterrestrials, it also considers how to detect them.
Lastly, astrochemistry involves studying substances outside of Earth. For example, what is the chemical makeup of celestial bodies, stars and interstellar space and how it relates to life in the universe.
Weather and climate is all around us. It affects our work and play.
Disasters related to weather cause hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Weather-related damage is in the billions of dollars per year.
This is why meteorology is of particular importance to us. The branches of meteorology are as follows:
- METEOROLOGY: The study of short and long-term weather/climate patterns including its physical properties and effects on the biosphere.
- ATMOSPHERIC PHYSICS: Applying physical processes to meteorology such as aerodynamics, radiometry and geomagnetism.
- LIFE SCIENCE: Understanding how living organisms interact with meteorology.
- WEATHER & CLIMATE: Studying weather and climate from past, present and future.
You can divide meteorology in different ways. But here’s how we see the branches of geology.
METEOROLOGY > WEATHER & CLIMATE
The main focus of meteorology is the study of the chemistry and physics for weather/climate. For long term weather patterns, climatology studies the past and how climate change will affect the future.
If you specifically want to study past weather patterns, paleoclimatology examines how prehistoric climates have changed in a geologic time scale. Paleotempestology is specific to tropical cyclones.
Meanwhile, barometry studies atmospheric pressure is measured and how it relates to weather and climate. Topoclimatology focuses on topographic relief and how it influences local climate in the lower air layer.
WEATHER & CLIMATE
METEOROLOGY > ATMOSPHERIC PHYSICS
The physical processes in weather and climate can be described in one of these branches of meteorology. For example, aerodynamics describes how air circulates in the atmosphere.
We use radiometry to measure incoming solar radiation from the sun. Next, hydrometeorology focuses on how this energy is transferred between the land surface, water and atmosphere.
Finally, there are branches of meteorology dedicated to Earth’s magnetic field. For example, geomagnetism studies solar winds and how it impacts our magnetic field
METEOROLOGY > LIFE SCIENCE
Meteorology had tremendous impacts on the biosphere. And there are several branches of meteorology that are concerned with this aspect.
For example, biometeorology measures how atmospheric conditions and short-term weather patterns impact living things. It may examine photosynthesis in plants or evapotranspiration rates in different seasons.
There’s also bioclimatology which addresses how long-term climate patterns affects living things. This includes elements from geobiology which relates the lithosphere, atmosphere and biosphere.
Water is all around us. In fact, 70% of Earth is oceans. Fisheries, the water cycle, weather, climate change, shipping routes…
Oceanography is a very relevant field of study which influences sustainable fisheries, economic growth and the environment.
We can divide oceanography in several ways. For example, we see the primary branches of oceanography as chemistry, physics, biology and geology.
- OCEANOGRAPHY – The branch of science that deals with ocean chemistry, physics, geology and biology.
- OCEAN CHEMISTRY– How chemical properties of oceans interact including marine ecosystems, ocean currents and fluid dynamics.
- MARINE PHYSICS – How ocean currents circulate including water column structure and fluid dynamics.
- MARINE BIOLOGY – How life in the oceans behave in their natural habitats.
- OCEAN GEOLOGY – How ocean currents circulate including water column structure and fluid dynamics.
Even though, you can organize the fields of oceanography in different ways…. here’s how we’ve divided the branches of oceanography.
OCEANOGRAPHY > OCEAN CHEMISTRY
Ocean chemistry or marine chemistry is a hot topic now. This is because climate change is happening from higher greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
About 80 to 90% of heat from global warming is going into our oceans. So the oceans are like a heat bucket absorbing 1000 times more heat than the atmosphere.
As oceans become more acidic, ocean chemistry studies the chemical properties of oceans interact including marine ecosystems, ocean currents and fluid dynamics.
OCEANOGRAPHY > OCEAN PHYSICS
Ocean currents are like giant conveyor belts flowing through the oceans moving huge amounts of water all the time. We use physics to measure the constant motion.
For example, fluid dynamics measures how liquids mechanically flow in relation to forces acting on them. In a similar way, hydrology studies the movement of water on land.
If you want to understand ocean depth, you’d perform a bathymetric survey with sonar. These sonar instruments map out ocean bathymetry – something scientists are still currently trying to achieve.
OCEANOGRAPHY > OCEAN BIOLOGY
Marine biology focuses on the interaction of oceans and life. For example, hydrobiology assesses how aquatic life in water is distributed, interacts and grows.
Because fisheries is a major global industry, sustainable fishing is essential to its success. We use ichthyology to understand how fish species evolve and grow including taxonomy, anatomy and ecological importance.
Small, microscopic organisms live in the often called plankton. Planktology focuses on how plankton drift in oceanic environment and contribute to carbon storage.
OCEANOGRAPHY > OCEAN GEOLOGY
Finally, ocean geology studies the structures of the ocean floor. Geophysics, chemistry and sedimentology all ties into this subject.
For example, paleoceanography better understands how ocean history is reconstructed including how they circulated and evolved in the geologic past.
It also has deep ties with plate tectonics. As plates tear apart deep in the oceans, this is where we find the youngest rock on Earth.
115 Earth Science Branches
Earth Science is so hard to define because of all its “-ologies”, “-graphies” and “-ics” in Earth Science.
All of the branches of Earth Science are all woven together in fascinating ways.
It’s the interconnectedness between all these ways to study the Earth us what makes it truly fascinating.
Now that we have an outline of the branches of Earth Science, let’s dive into our journey into better understanding the planet we live in.