Environmental science is the study of how living and nonliving things interact with their surroundings. This can include everything from soil and water to air, animals and plants, and even a planet’s atmosphere. Scientists are always looking to improve their understanding of the environment, and it is no wonder why—it impacts all of us on a daily basis.
The term “environment” can mean different things to people from various fields of knowledge. In physics, it refers to the physical and chemical forces that surround all matter and living things, while in biology it is the totality of an organism’s living and nonliving interactions. For human beings, the environment encompasses all the factors that influence health and well-being.
Living species are constantly adapting to their environment. This is because every aspect of the environment affects living species, both positively and negatively. For example, photosynthesis created oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere and made it possible for aerobic organisms like animals to grow and survive.
The environment also includes the totality of all living and nonliving things within a certain geographical area, including weather, climate, and natural resources. The term is sometimes referred to as the natural environment, the biosphere, or the global ecosystem.
While the word “environment” is used broadly to refer to all of the above, it is often associated with specific areas of study. For example, scientists who study how living organisms respond to the natural world are known as biogeographers or paleoecologists. Biogeographers use environmental proxies such as pollen and charcoal to understand how biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) processes have influenced species and ecosystems at different scales of both space and time.
Another important type of environment is the atmospheric environment. This includes the elements of the air, such as temperature, humidity, and pressure. This is contrasted with the weather, which describes conditions on a day-to-day basis, and the climate, which describes averages over longer periods of time.
Lastly, the electromagnetic environment is the spectrum of radio waves and other electromagnetic radiation that interact with the Earth and its atmosphere. This is also called the ionosphere, and it can affect living organisms as well as nonliving materials.
When most people think of the environment, they are likely to think about green spaces—such as parks or gardens—and the positive effects on their health and wellbeing they can provide. However, recent research suggests that even blue spaces—such as lakes and rivers—can be restorative, too. And the good news is that it doesn’t have to take very long for these benefits to occur, with just two recreational hours in nature per week being enough to improve feelings of stress and depression. (Source: Scientific Reports, Vol 9, No 1, 2019). We have a great range of resources available that can help your students learn more about Natural, Constructed and Managed Environment Features. Why not try one of them out with your class today?