Earth system science: A holistic tool for Geology and Geography undergraduate students

Category Other
Group GSI.IR
Location International Geological Congress,oslo 2008
Author Carneiro, Celso; Goncalves, Pedro
Holding Date 11 October 2008

The focus of Earth System Science (ESS) seeks for transferring to education the results of a broad academic research field that treat the planet as a complex, dynamic and integrated system. This holistic tool should give a scientific perspective for key-elements to life, i.e. the air, drinking water, soil, energy and other materials that humans use for surviving.
Earth, as a single entity, has a long geological history developed, more recently, in interaction with social transformations. Scholars of ESS seek to understand the key processes and patterns in the dynamics of the so-called material spheres of Earth. It involves studying both the internal processes of each component as well as the interactions among them. This approach can be considered a scenario of innovation for teaching of science in general and of modern geology and geography in particular, but a review of the approach of Earth System Science from the point-of-view of the histories of science and geology reveals that this holistic understanding of the planet have been proposed since the origin of Geology as a science.
The Geology and Geography undergraduate students of Unicamp attended a small chain of ESS I and II disciplines from the very beginning of the courses. The preliminary results were satisfactory, as reported in a few communications. The year 2008, when the courses celebrate one decade of existence, is a landmark to evaluate what was the real contribution the ESS disciplines for stimulating a broader scope of the Earth’s dynamics to people who attended them.
Fieldwork and practical activities are defined from an approach of Geology and science, that takes advantage of the methodological structure of the geological knowledge as it have been developed in the History of Geology.
A field activity planning follows the following steps: (a) selection of the site for fieldwork, overview of maps, concepts of scale and geological time; (b) study of current processes and records directly in the field in a sand extraction quarry; (c) transfer of information on current sedimentary processes to explain geological records; (d) practical application of the knowledge on sedimentary processes to explain paleoclimates, using the principle of Actualism; (e) construction of a geological model of the rock cycle and evolution of a magmatic chamber. This is done in a third excursion to strongly deformed and metamorphosed Precambrian rocks.
All stages reinforce the idea that the geological record allows researchers to build mental models of the processes occurring on the planet. The strategies allowed to get more enthusiasm by students as a consequence of group and individual activities. This is a startpoint to show students that the study of Earth System Science is an endeavour to understand complex systems as the Earth System itself.