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What is Earth and space science about?

Earth and space science (ESS) connects systems

Earth and space science explores the interconnections between the land, ocean, atmosphere, and life of our planet. These include the cycles of water, carbon, rock, and other materials that continuously shape, influence, and sustain Earth and its inhabitants.

ESS also explores the cyclical interactions between the Earth system and the Sun and Moon.

ESS explores how New Zealand has been shaped by its location

New Zealand straddles the boundary between two major tectonic plates. ESS scientists – and students who study ESS – investigate how this precarious location has impacted (and continues to impact) on New Zealand’s geology and landforms, sometimes in dramatic ways.

ESS investigates the major ocean currents that flow past New Zealand and the impact these and other factors have on our weather and climate.

ESS explores the solar system and beyond

Planet Earth is dynamically linked with the solar system and the wider universe. ESS investigates the structure and composition of these systems and develops understanding of the vast distances and times involved.

Interpreting the Nature of Science in an ESS context

Understanding about science

Students learn how understanding of the Earth system, the solar system, the universe, and the interactions between them has developed over time. For example, how:

  • Wegener and other scientists came to understand that the surface of the earth is broken into tectonic plates that move and interact at their boundaries
  • Pluto was discovered in 1930 because of disturbances in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune and became the ninth planet, only to be declared a dwarf planet in 2006 after the discovery of Kuiper Belt objects of similar sizes
  • technologies such as space telescopes and probes have facilitated a build-up of knowledge and understanding about planets, moons, and the rest of the universe
  • attempts by humans to travel in space have been influenced by the politics of the day
  • satellites that can measure such factors as the temperature of the surface of the ocean make it possible to build computer models that can be used to accurately monitor changes in the Earth system
  • the cumulative work of many scientific teams has led to such breakthroughs as understanding the mechanisms of climate change and ocean acidification.

Investigating in science

Students investigate aspects of the Earth system, the solar system and the universe. For example:

  • Investigating the exchange of carbon dioxide between the ocean and atmosphere by undertaking practical investigations and processing and interpreting secondary data.
  • Investigating the Sun, Moon and Earth cycles by exploring and developing different models.
  • Exploring the distribution of fault lines by interpreting satellite images of the countryside, going on field trips, and examining seismometer readings.
  • Researching historical volcanic eruptions to understand interactions between tectonic plates.
  • Developing a sense of scale by building 3D models of rock strata.

Communicating in science

Students learn to communicate using the language of Earth and space science. For example:

  • Using data, text, diagrams, models, and computer simulations to show understanding of the Earth system, solar system, and universe.
  • Interpreting data from many sources by a range of methods to show changes in the earth system over time and to understand astronomical changes and cycles.
  • Using appropriate scientific language (such as correct rock names, biological classifications, and physical concepts) and symbols (such as chemical symbols) to communicate information on earth and science issues.

Participating and contributing

Students use their understanding of Earth and science principles to make informed decisions about socio-scientific issues. For example:

  • Researching and discussing such issues such as the sequestering of excess carbon dioxide in underground geological formations and the disposal of hazardous waste in geologically active areas.
  • Recognising that human existence is dependent on a healthy Earth system.
  • Discussing whether humans should travel to Mars and beyond.

Last updated July 18, 2012