Environmental science

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Environment

Environmental science
Environmental technology
  • Air pollution control
  • Air pollution dispersion modeling
  • Alternative energy
  • Biofuel
  • Composting
  • Ecoforestry
  • Energy conservation
  • Environmental design
  • Future energy development
  • Green building
  • Hydrogen technologies
  • Natural building
  • Recycling
  • Renewable energy
  • Renewable energy development
  • Remediation
  • Solid waste treatment
  • Sustainable architecture
  • Sustainable energy
  • Sustainable development
  • Waste water treatment
  • Water purification
  • Waste management

Environmental science is the study of the interactions among the physical, chemical and biological components of the environment; with a focus on pollution and degradation of the environment related to human activities; and the impact on biodiversity and sustainability from local and global development. It is inherently an interdisciplinary field that draws upon not only its core scientific areas, but also applies knowledge from other non-scientific studies such as economics, law and social sciences. Physics is used to understand the flux of material and energy interaction and construct mathematical models of environmental phenomena. Chemistry is applied to understand the molecular interactions among natural systems. Biology is fundamental to describing the effects within the plant and animal kingdoms.

While the concept of environmental science has existed for centuries, it came alive as a substantive, active field of scientific investigation in the 1960s and 1970s driven by (a) the need for a large multi-disciplined team to analyze complex environmental problems, (b) the arrival of substantive environmental laws requiring specific environmental protocols of investigation and (c) the growing public awareness of a need for action in addressing environmental problems.

Environmental science encompasses issues such as climate change, conservation, biodiversity, groundwater and soil contamination, use of natural resources, waste management, sustainable development, air pollution and noise pollution. Due to the inherent interdisciplinary nature of environmental science, teams of professionals commonly work together to conduct environmental research or to produce Environmental Impact Statements, as required by the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or under state laws. There are professional organizations that engender work in environmental science and aid in communication among the diverse sciences.


Atmospheric sciences examines the new phenomenology of 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 fluxes, and specialists such as meteorologists and oceanographers add additional breadth in understanding the atmospheric dynamics.

Ecology studies typically analyze the dynamics among an interrelated set of populations, or a population and some aspect of its environment. 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 includes environmental geology, environmental soil science, volcanic phenomena and evolution of the earth's crust. In some classification systems it can also embrace hydrology including oceanography.

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.

Regulations driving the studies

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. 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.

One can examine the specifics of environmental science by reading examples of Environmental Impact Statements prepared under NEPA such as: Wastewater treatment expansion options discharging into the San Diego/ Tiajuana Estuary, Expansion of the San Francisco International Airport, Development of the Houston, Metro Transportation system, Expansion of the metropolitan Boston MBTA transit system, and Construction of Interstate 66 through Arlington, Virginia.

In England and Wales the Environmental Agency[ ](EA), (EA) formed in 1996 is the leading public body for protecting and improving the environment and enforces the regulations listed on the communities and local government site[ ] (formerly the office of the deputy prime minister) which help drive the study environmental science in the UK. The Agency was set up under the Environment Act 1995 as an independent body and works closely with UK Government to enforce the regulations.


One can distinguish between "environmental science" and "ecology", since the two fields embody different foci of investigation, although there is considerable overlap. Ecology and environmental science both focus on the interactions of populations of organisms with their environment (including parameters such as meteorology, environmental noise, water quality, air quality, and soil chemistry). A dissimilarity is that ecology is often concerned with issues of biodiversity and the distribution of organisms, while environmental science may address interactions of physical parameters that may not involve biological systems directly, but exert some influence on it. One can consider "ecology" as a basic sub-category to environmental science in analyzing biological systems, both on local and global scales.

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