Skip top navigation and go to page content
National Science Foundation
Astronomy and Astrophysics
next page Earth & Environmental Science Home
next page More Research Overviews
Photo, caption follows:

Eruption of the Karymsky volcano in Kamchatka, Russia.
Credit: Jonathan M. Lees

Cover Page Credit: Photo illustration by John Prusinski, National Science Foundation

Title: Overview
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 our planet.

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.
  row bullet What part do we play in Earth's changing climate?
  row bullet What can rock layers tell us about Earth's history?
  row bullet How can we understand the forces that lead to earthquakes and volcanoes?
  row bullet How can organisms live without sunlight?
  row bullet How do long-term changes affect Earth's ecosystems?