Why is Earth science important?
Earth science affects all our lives. Our landscape has been shaped by natural processes such as tectonics, weathering, and biological activity over billions of years. We use natural materials everyday, everything from building stone and oil to metals such as iron, copper and gold, and even diamonds, have all been extracted from the ground. Natural hazards such as volcanoes and earthquakes can dramatically affect lives. Earth science is the study of these processes.
As hinted at above, there is a huge range of Earth science topics including mountain building, the structure of the deep earth, the creation of oceans, the erosion of continents, the location of natural resources, volcanoes, past climates and the evolution of life. NERC funds all of these Earth science topics.
Understanding how our planet works is essential if we are to properly manage our environment and if we are to predict how the environment will change in the future. Earth scientists can monitor changes in our environment, model our impact on the environment and suggest solutions to our environmental problems. Environmental issues being studied by Earth scientists include the distribution of pollutants in the landscape and the environmental impact of industrial activity, such as mining and landfill.
Natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanoes are responsible for many deaths, and for the loss of many more homes and livelihoods. Increased knowledge of natural hazards will improve predictions of the occurrence and scale of these potentially life threatening events, giving people a chance to prepare. The UK's Earth scientists are participating in global efforts to understand these infrequent, but often devastating, events. For example, NERC's research centre the British Geological Survey is part of a global network that monitors seismic activity worldwide.
Studying the Earth's past can also help us understand what will happen in the future. Within rocks and landscapes is preserved evidence from periods when the Earth was much warmer and when it was much colder than today. These warm periods shows us the effect of environmental changes such as sea level rise, desertification, and the loss of rainforests. Fossils demonstrate the evolution of plants and animals and can also record the response of ecosystems to changes in the environment, providing lessons about the ability of present day ecosystems ability to adapt to environmental change.
NERC funds all areas of Earth sciences through its research centres, the British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and British Antarctic Survey, and by supporting research at academic institutions. Currently NERC is funding Earth science related research programmes within the natural hazards, sustainable use of natural resources, Earth system science, climate systems and technologies themes, and through the UKIODP.
NERC is also supporting individual projects looking at a diverse range of Earth science topics through its responsive mode grants schemes. Recently awarded responsive mode grants have dealt with subjects such as the volatile content of the mantle, meteorite impacts, the stability of ice sheets and mass extinction.