Earth Sciences - What's That?


What is Earth Sciences? Why would you study it? And how do you get to study it at Oxford? I’m going to try and answer these questions in the hope that you may learn what the general gist of the subject is - or, if you’re already interested, explain what it’s like to put Earth Sciences at Oxford as your course choice for application to UCAS.

What is Earth Sciences?

Earth Sciences is a small, niche, subject that you don’t find at many other universities. Often, it’s labelled as Geology, but at Oxford the subject takes the broader title that encompasses practically all the natural science subjects alongside geology and a whole lot of maths.

Normally, this short-form description is the one I would use to explain it. But this does not do the subject justice.

Under the umbrella term of natural sciences you find the classic physics, chemistry and biology. The same is true of maths. Most people will not, however, have encountered geology before. Geology involves studying the solid Earth: its origin, composition and structure. In a way, it’s like physical geography (and it actually does include some of the more geography-like topics you may have studied in school, like climate and volcanoes) but taught through time and space. Geology is understood through the disciplines of:

  • Mineralogy – the study of minerals.

  • Palaeontology – the study of fossils and their ecologies.

  • Stratigraphy – the study of how rock strata are layered and ordered.

  • Geodesy – the mathematical study of the shape and form of the Earth.

Each of these areas is quite different and involves a different skill set. However, they are all required together to get a holistic understanding of how the Earth works.

If there’s one discipline in Earth Sciences that links them all together, it’s maths. I severely underestimated the extent to which maths would be involved in this degree course, despite it being a compulsory subject to apply with at A-Level. Within the first term of first year, the maths lecture course has you tackling second order differential equations, moments of inertia and partial derivatives. But fear not! If you’re committed to working hard and putting in the practice on problem sets, you’ll cope just fine! The same goes for the science subjects covered by the course.

So, that’s my attempt at explaining one of Oxford’s smallest subjects for those who are interested.

Now to discuss why you’d want to study it - read Rebecca's next blog post for this!

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