The changing world of Earth science

Traditionally, Earth scientists study the rocks and soils of Planet Earth, and try to understand the planet's history and structure. We try to decipher from the record of the rocks all the things that have happened since its origin, with the rest of the Solar System, 4.6 billion years ago. We try to understand processes that created minerals, hydrocarbons, metals, soils, aggregates (sand, clay and gravel) and even life itself. From this we come to understand the extreme age of the world, and of life, and the tiny moment for which human beings have existed - and perhaps will exist - on its surface.

Earth scientists are on a quest for pure knowledge, but this is knowledge we desperately need. All humanity's raw materials and nearly all its power must come from the Earth - and it is Earth scientists who find it.

The men and women in Earth science today - pure and applied - constitute the largest living database of information about the past and present of planet Earth that has ever existed. We are also stewards of planet Earth.

Humanity's survival - and that of life itself - depends on maintaining a functioning Earth System. For that reason, activities that interfere with this delicately balanced system are a matter of global concern. Earth science is now at the forefront of understanding how the Earth System works, and stewardship is an issue right at the forefront of policy - exemplified by the Johannesburg Summit (2002), the work of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and its World Summit on the Information Society (2002). Today, Earth scientists' work has come to encompass all interactions between land, life, water and air in making up the total Earth System. Earth science now not only seeks to explain the Earth's past, but also.

Planet Earth in our hands

Humans in the landscape

Spheres within spheres

Building high, building deep