What is Earth System Science?

In Earth System Science we approach understanding nature by looking at the interconnections of the parts of the Earth and its surroundings, as well as looking at the parts. The study tends strongly to be interdisciplinary ­ hence quite challenging, but more rewarding as well.

Systems can be thought of as having four components:
1. System attributes
2. System history
3. System elements
4. System connections

Systems often display the wonderful attribute of having "emergent properties", that is, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts". This is not a trivial point, but rather is critical to our understanding. No one could understand the significance of the system that was Georgia O'Keefe by examining the properties of the chemical elements that made her up. The system attributes are often emergent properties. Our climate is an emergent property of the Earth's Biosphere system.

The Earth System changes through time because the earth has a history and all of its parts, particularly the living parts, have a history. Indeed they evolve.

One major group of parts are and were the dinosaurs, the focus of this course.

But, dinosaurs are not just interesting in themselves. What is even more interesting are the interconnections between dinosaurs and their surroundings in an ecological and energy-flow sense. We can draw parallels between how dinosaurs altered and interacted with their environment, and how we alter and interact with our environment. The knowledge we gain about the world by attempting to understand the connections between its parts and the emergent properties of our system is much greater than what we might gain by examining only the individual parts.

Columbia University is a major center of research on Earth Systems; Below are a number of Columbia-related web sites related to Earth Systems.

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Earth & Environmental Sciences Journalism
Department of Earth and Environmnetal Sciences
Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Center for Environmental Research and Conservation
Earth's Environmental Systems (V2100, V2200, V2300)
Biosphere 2
Black Rock Forest

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