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A Beginners Guide to Environmental Science

written by: Niki Fears•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 10/20/2009

The first part of a simple guide to help you understand what environmental science is, how it is used, and what opportunities are available for you in this growing and important field.

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    What is Environmental Science?

    With the news constantly filled by headline after headline of news and information about the environment and the range of problems that we are facing, Environmental Science has become a more important and visible field than ever before. However, what exactly is entailed in the field of Environmental Science is still somewhat of a fuzzy area for many people. In this guide we will look at the basics of Environmental Science, the fundamental principles at play, and what the opportunities are for those who wish to study and work in environmental sciences.

    Fields in Environmental Science

    The umbrella of environmental science actually draws on a very wide and diverse range of fields from various disciplines including, but not limited to, biology, botany, chemistry, geology, meteorology and atmospheric science, ecology, land management, and environmental philosophy. On a basic level, Environmental Science is simply the pursuit and study of the entire natural world and the relationship between all aspects of that world, including human activity.

    Although there are many aspects of environmental science, the bulk of the field is concentrated into three main areas which aid in our understanding of the natural world:

    1. Studying natural ecosystems, how they function, what factors are involved, etc.

    2. Evaluating the impact of human activity upon the natural world.

    3. Analyzing data of failed, or failing, ecosystems (often the result of human based activities and exploitation) in order to devise ways of conserving or reviving the habitats.

    In pursuit of these three goals, environmental scientists will engage a variety of activities utilizing and combining many skills and scientific fields such as the use of chemistry and microbiology when evaluating water samples and performing water monitoring to help in the determination of the health and stability of a particular habitat or ecosystem.

    Other examples include studying the impact of human activity, such as sonar testing and other anthropogenic noises, on the surrounding marine life including many already endangered species of whales and dolphins. Environmental scientists may study soil quality or erosion to help predict possible problems with run off from factories and farms or monitor patterns in weather and climate to help us understand the effects of global warming and predict future climate change. They may look at the range of a particular species of plants or animals and how the encroachment of human development is resulting in habitat loss, reporting on the effect that this may have on that particular species and the ecosystem that it is a part of.

    In fact, the tasks and skills of environmental scientists are almost never ending. And given this wide range, and the valuable work that is included in the field of Environmental Science it is easy to see why it is an ever expanding career opportunity. In the second part of this guide to environmental science we will look at what some of those career opportunities might be.

    Also, check out some top-rated universities and programs for a degree in Environmental Science.