Earth Sciences

Earth Sciences

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  • Department of Earth Sciences
    Department of Earth Sciences

As a large, integrated department the expertise and current research of our staff spans many areas of the earth sciences.

In addition to our undergraduate and graduate teaching, our primary research groupings focus on: climate change and earth-ocean atmosphere systems; geodynamics, geophysics and tectonics; mineral sciences; palaeobiology and petrology, including igneous, metamorphic and volcanic studies. 

Science for planet Earth

Mankind’s interaction with the Earth will be a dominant theme in the lives of the next few generations of our planet’s inhabitants. The threats and challenges from climate change and natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, are frequently emphasised by dramatic events that reveal the vulnerability of our increasing global population. To improve our resilience to environmental threats we must understand the science behind their nature and causes. Only through this understanding can we develop strategies to mitigate the risks and make more responsible use of the Earth’s resources.

In trying to obtain that understanding we are often observing natural phenomena over which we have little or no influence, but which contain vital clues to the controls on their underlying behaviour. In such circumstances a flexible, nimble and intellectually diverse approach, driven by a strong questioning curiosity, is necessary. History shows that these have indeed been the characteristics behind the biggest conceptual breakthroughs in understanding how the Earth works.

Multi-disciplinary collaboration at Cambridge leads to world-leading discoveries

We have world class expertise in multiple methods of imaging, measurement and analysis, from space- and airborne-based remote sensing to field-based missions on land, sea, ice and in the atmosphere. This carefully targeted data collecting is supplemented by robust laboratory measurements, analogue experiments, computational modelling and theory, and ranges over timescales from geological to present day. In all these activities we push the boundaries of what is possible and develop new methods and insights with the aim of achieving a thorough understanding of fundamental scientific processes.

Underlying our expertise and experience is the natural tendency of researchers in Cambridge to interact across conventional disciplinary boundaries. The unique Cambridge research culture produces a high level of flexible creativity and effective communication driven by a shared intellectual curiosity, which are without doubt among our greatest strengths.

Cambridge scientists have made some of humanity’s most important discoveries about planet Earth. Famous examples include the discovery of plate tectonics, the causes of ice-age cycles, and the processes that form sedimentary basins, such as the North Sea. Our breadth is exemplified by recent developments in the mathematics of multi-phase fluid flow, which have been applied to phenomena as diverse as volcanic eruptions, the origin of mountain belts, the underground storage of carbon dioxide and natural ventilation in buildings. More recently Cambridge’s Earth Science experts have played an important role in developing the science underpinning the ozone hole, and the justification for the Montreal Protocol and its successors.

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Meaghan Annear

Head of Development — Physical Sciences

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Earth Sciences website

Opportunities in 'Earth Sciences'

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With its outstanding track record in research and teaching, the School of the Physical Sciences is home to some of the world's most important work in astronomy, chemistry, earth sciences, geography, materials science, physics, and pure and applied mathematics.