About Earth and Environmental Sciences

Green hills

The roles of geoscientists are to better understand Earth’s physical environment, predict likely outcomes of interacting Earth processes, identify and quantify natural resources for a sustainable planet, and understand the role of anthropogenic forces and societal choices that impact the Earth system. The ability to investigate processes over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales is central to the geoscience perspective. As a part of MSU's land grant philosophy, it is our mission to discover new knowledge, apply fundamental research insights to societal problems, and train the next generation of citizens, scholars, and policy makers.

Changes in the physical, chemical, and biological environment are natural phenomena that impact the earth and its systems from microscopic to global scales. These changes are evident in the geologic record, and their consequences affect the environment where life flourishes now and will continue to do so into the future. Geological scientists determine the history of natural change, what changes are possible, how and when they occur, the phenomena which attend them, and their results. Of particular concern is that many recent changes on Earth (e.g., pollution of soil, water, and air; disruption of global biogeochemical cycles; decreases in habitat diversity) are a direct or indirect consequence of human activities.

The geological scientist brings a unique perspective to addressing global change issues, as summarized by the phrase "the present is the key to the past and the past is the key to the future." No other discipline has this perspective. In fact, there are consequences of human activities that have yet to be felt. This concept, known as "environmental legacy," was first recognized by geological scientists. The geological scientist also brings an important foundation for developing successful science-based strategies for evaluating impacted systems in the context of past natural physical, chemical, and biological processes. Thus, the geological scientist is an important partner to evolutionary biologists, environmental engineers, ecologists, and policy makers.

Faculty and students in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences study the changes in and interactions among the geosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere on temporal scales ranging from "deep time" (millions and billions of years) to those influenced by humans and at spatial scales from microscopic to global. The Department provides high quality learning experiences for students at undergraduate and graduate levels, that includes preparation for those interested in educational, academic, industry and government careers. Faculty, students, and alumni serve as resource persons to private and public sector enterprises, teachers, and government agencies at all levels, providing knowledge and scientifically informed comment on important local, regional, global, and extra terrestrial events, such as causes and effects of climate change, contaminants in the environment related to human health, natural disasters, the evolution of and search for life throughout our solar system, environment and resource issues, and science education.