The "third rock from the Sun"—Earth. With an
orbit neither too close nor too far from the Sun, the Earth
occupies a unique position in the Solar System. It's
the only planet known to man with the right conditions
for the origin and evolution of life. During Earth's 4.5 billion-year history, a combination of processes has
transformed Earth into a watery blue, living planet.
Earth's environments range from polar ice caps to
hot, dry deserts, from dark ocean depths to high mountaintops.
The planet's ecosystems involve complex interactions
between the biological (living) and physical (non-living)
worlds. More than four billion years of evolution have resulted
in the existence of life in virtually every environment on
The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Geosciences Directorate's
Divisions of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, Earth and Ocean Sciences, the Biological
Sciences Directorate's Division of Environmental Biology,
and the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) initiative, among
others, support research that leads to an understanding and
prediction of Earth and its environment.
This research helps us comprehend our effects on the environment
and how the environment in turn responds to impacts of our
activities. New findings in these areas of science advance
knowledge of Earth’s resources, such as water, energy,
minerals and biological diversity. These results improve
our ability to predict natural phenomena of economic and
human significance, such as climate change, earthquakes,
fish-stock fluctuations and disruptive events in weather,
like tornadoes, hurricanes and blizzards. Research on the
origins, functions, relationships, interactions and evolutionary
history of animal and plant populations, species, communities
and ecosystems helps us understand biodiversity, evolution,
ecology, conservation biology and restoration ecology.
The following are a few of the Earth and environment questions that scientists who are supported by NSF
are seeking to answer.