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What is Environmental Science?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Environmental science is the study of the environment and the interconnecting systems it contains, as well as the way people interact with their natural surroundings and use natural resources. This field in the sciences is highly interdisciplinary, and the type of research environmental scientists do is extremely diverse. People may study everything from climate change to volcanoes as part of their work, and employment opportunities include jobs with governments, conservation organizations, and private firms interested in environmental topics. Pay scales vary, depending on qualifications and areas of interest, and can include benefits like opportunities to travel to conferences and events.

The study of environmental science includes physical sciences like geology and physics, along with biology and topics such as meteorology. Some people are also interested in social science topics so that they can more effectively study human interactions with the environment and topics like the history of human societies and their relationship with the environment. Social science is also useful for people working in public outreach and communication, as they want to be able to effectively convey concepts to members of the public.

Rather than studying isolated organisms and phenomena, environmental scientists look at interconnected natural systems to learn more about the environment in a given region as a whole. This can include understanding interactions between different kinds of organisms, as well as studying topics like how activities such as farming, development, and mining impact the natural world. Many environmental scientists are interested in sustainability and want to find ways to use natural resources while also preserving them.

Many colleges and universities have environmental science programs and conduct advanced research in this field. People can study a number of topics within the discipline, depending on their interests and career plans. People interested in conservation, for example, would focus on sustainability, public policy, and related topics. A person who wants to study climate change might be interested in climate history, ongoing environmental changes, meteorology, and similar matters.

Professional organizations dedicated to environmental science offer a variety of opportunities to members including conferences, trade publications, and continuing education. Many people choose to join a professional organization in their field to make themselves more employable, have access to other scientists, and keep track of ongoing research and other topics, like changing views on scientific ethics. Membership qualifications vary, depending on the organization, but usually require people to have a graduate degree and some work experience or published research.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon963782 — On Jul 31, 2014

In a developing /early developing country like Bangladesh, public universities are still suffering a lot regarding the systematic course of environmental science like biology and ecology. Presently, I feel it urgent to know recent objectives and attainment in these fields worldwide.

The pathways of such interdisciplinary approaches must be adopted appropriately. This is only to develop discipline in education from base to top. Initially, environmental problems are pollution of rivers, air and some soils, floods, cyclones, arsenic, plant pathogens, etc.

As a teacher of higher studies at the National University, Bangladesh, Chittagong College Campus, I am starting a quick search work of prime preference.

By anon267909 — On May 11, 2012

Is math a vital part of an environmental science major?

By anon193509 — On Jul 05, 2011

Is biology a must for environmental chemistry? Because in India, we have a course which offers math, physics and chemistry. If not, what does chemical technology deal with?

By cougars — On Jun 23, 2011

I would advise anyone interested in environmental science jobs to seek training in GIS or computer modeling to be competitive in the job market. Scientists that are proficient in computer use are in high demand right now, especially in consulting firms and when working with planning departments.

By istria — On Jun 21, 2011

@pelestears- There are a number of great jobs for environmental scientists, most of which are recession proof. State and local governments, consulting firms, engineering and architecture firms, and the federal government employ most people with environmental science degrees. Government scientists are rarely laid off because they play such a vital role in policy development and the planning of infrastructure.

Most local and state level environmental scientists work with planners, transportation engineers, and other government regulatory agencies to prevent and remediate contamination of vital natural resources like water and air. They analyze and model the impact of projects like transportation throughways, real estate developments, and waste treatment facilities.

Within the federal government, most environmental scientists work for the EPA and the Department of Defense, but they are increasingly working with the Department of Energy. These scientists will perform research to aid in policy development as well as aid in the development of new technologies and resources.

The private sector environmental scientists tend to have the least job security because their work is often tied to building and development. When the economy is down, the number of consultants needs to be trimmed, but consultancy can be very lucrative. Overall, the government projects environmental scientists will be in much higher demand than most other professions.

By highlighter — On Jun 18, 2011

@PelesTears- I am applying to environmental science graduate programs at Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara. I have been researching careers in Environmental Science for the past few years, so I have a good idea of the possibilities. I am not sure though what types of professional organizations there are for environmental scientists because I am still working my way through my college degree. I figure I will have an opportunity to join an organization and seek different certifications once I am a little closer to finishing graduate studies.

Environmental scientists can specialize in a number of areas beyond what the article described. One of the schools I am looking at has an Environmental Science and Management program that offers a number of different tracks based on the career desires of the students. These specializations include thing like marine resource management, corporate environmental management, conservation planning, environmental politics and economics, and energy resource management. The specializations are made up of courses in addition to the core environmental science courses like that deal with environmental policy, law, biogeochemistry, and data analysis.

By PelesTears — On Jun 16, 2011

What are some of the organizations that Environmental scientists can seek membership with? In addition, does anyone have any more information on different specialties within environmental science? What type of careers can an environmental science graduate look forward too? I am interested in the interdisciplinary nature of environmental science, but I do not know what type of work these types of scientists perform. Thanks.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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