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.


Next steps

To discuss your philanthropic goals or explore opportunities for collaborative investment, please contact Glen.

Glen Whitehead

Glen Whitehead

Senior Associate Director - Physical Sciences

+44 (0)1223 330112 or mobile: +44 (0)7711 500332

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Gift announcements

Cambridge owes its world-leading excellence in research and teaching to the generosity of its supporters. Our history is synonymous with a history of far-sighted benefaction, and the same is as true today as it has ever been.

Gift announcement
Multi-million pound legacy to create a new 'Ray and Dagmar Dolby Court' at Pembroke College
Gift announcement
The University of Cambridge is launching a new research centre, thanks to a £10 million grant from the Leverhulme Trust, to explore the opportunities and challenges to humanity from the development of artificial intelligence. 

Impact of giving

Philanthropic giving is at the heart of the success of the Collegiate University, enabling us to make discoveries that change the world and to ensure that our students received an unrivalled education.

Wolfson Laser Lab
Philanthropic impact story
In 2016 the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology will bid farewell to central Cambridge and move into its new £60m purpose-built home on the West Cambridge Science and Technology Campus.
The new Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Addenbrooke's hospital
Philanthropic impact story
At any one time, more than 1000 clinical trials are being conducted across the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, the largest gathering of clinical, pharmaceutical and biomedical research specialists in Europe. These trials are a crucial step in the design of new medicines and medical devices – translating ideas that started in a research laboratory into new treatments for patients.