What is Science? What is Geoscience?

The Get Real! Science team grappled with the first question in the past week, learning that there are more than a few ways to define this subject that forms the basis of our work as science educators.  The National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council (1996) describe science as “a way of coming to understand the world in which we live”.   Chiappetta &  Koballa (2010) carry this description further by pointing out science’s distinction from other knowing disciplines because “it has standards and practices that generate ideas to explain phenomena and to predict outcomes”.

Now that we better understand what science is, what is geoscience?  Geoscience is the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary study of Earth, including its atmosphere and oceans. A recent article in a geoscience journal depicts a problem long studied in the geosciences: the Earth’s crustal thickness.  This is a model showing the principal layers of Earth, and as you can see, the crust is the thin layer on the surface, underlain by the mantle and core.

Image:  Ed Garnero, Arizona State University. Simple Earth.

We live on Earth’s crust!  Knowing the thickness of the crust is useful for a great many geoscience observations such as the location of mountain belts and ocean depths, geohazards, and also for natural resource exploration and management (Alvey et al., 2018).

Yin + Yangster by Laura Yang. Earth’s Crust.

Over many decades of research, there have been numerous interpretations of crustal thickness on Earth.  With progress in the geoscience epistemology and new and improved technology, geoscientists are getting closer to making more accurate characterizations of the global distribution of crustal thickness.  The map below depicts crustal thickness for both the continents and oceans as derived from gravity studies.  The shaded relief represents the gravity anomalies and note how the tectonic features are revealed (Alvey et al., 2018).  What are gravity anomalies?  How can gravity anomalies tell us about crustal thickness?   What is the rough average thickness for continental crust?  How about oceanic crust?  Next time, I will go over Earth modeling and how geoscientists use models, such as the one below, to represent phenomena.

From Alvey et al. (2018). Global map of crustal thickness derived by gravity inversion (OCTek).  The Gulf of Mexico and Indian Ocean regions are in the boxed areas. Note the very thick crust of the Tibetan Plateau and the very thin crust in the ocean basins.

This is part of the East African Rift System in Djibouti, Africa.  Rift zones are associated with areas of thin crust.  Can you find any of these zones in the global map above?

The crustal thickness study is an important part of the geoscience field of tectonics.  There is a long and fascinating history of plate tectonics!  Shown below is Alfred Wegener, a German meteorologist who is considered to be the “Father of plate tectonics” after his 1912 hypothesis that at one time the continents were joined into a “supercontinent” called Pangaea which broke apart and drifted away about 200 million years ago.  He deduced this from observations of fossil and rock formation similarities between the continents where their coastlines matched.  This hypothesis was vexing to most geoscientists of the day who believed the continents were not able to move laterally.  Wegener faced rejection and even ostracization from many of his colleagues and, sadly, he was never to know his theory of continental drift led to the acceptance of plate tectonic theory in the mid-1960s and its revolutionary influence upon geoscience.

Alfred Lothar Wegener—never to know he would become the “Father of plate tectonics”.  But his haute couture and pipe might have been enough for him!  Photo by Mary Evans Picture Library.

As this week’s class blogger, Alyssa, mentions, we had a most interesting visit from a professor of Environmental Conservation and Horticulture at Finger Lakes Community College:  Dr. John VanNiel.  Dr. VanNiel demonstrated a creative way of teaching us about our New York fauna by building on what we knew (or thought we knew) and steering us from observation to inferences toward what is known (or thought to be known); for scientific knowledge is always “tentative” (Chiappetta & Koballa, 2010).  As budding educators, we are learning how to teach science (next week’s blog topic!) and Dr. VanNiel’s approach to engage of all of us in science inquiry methods made for a memorable and fun class.  He helped us to find our own way to “understand the world in which we live” (National Research Council, 1996)

Next week, our Get Real! Science team digs deeper into how one learns (geo)science.  Until then, be sure to browse through my cohort’s blogs to examine their views on “What is Science?” this week too!

Below are some links to some of the preeminent geoscience organizations, have a look and see if you can answer the questions posed in this blog by next time!  Peace out!

American Geosciences Institute:  https://www.americangeosciences.org

The Geological Society of America:  https://www.geosociety.org

American Geophysical Union:  https://sites.agu.org


Alfred Lothar Wegener.  Photo by Mary Evans Picture Library. Retrieved from https://fineartamerica.com/featured/alfred-lothar-wegener-german-mary-evans-picture-library.html

Alvey, A., Roberts, A., & Kusznir, N. (2018) What is the thickness of Earth’s crust?  Geoscientist. 28(7), 10-15.

Chiappetta, E.L. & Koballa, T.R. (2010). The nature of science. In Science Instruction in the Middle and Secondary Schools, 100-108, Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Ed Garnero, Arizona State University. Simple Earth. Retrieved from http://garnero.asu.edu/research_images/images_all.html

National Research Council. (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington D.C.: National Academies Press.

Yin + Yangster by Laura Yang. Earth’s Crust. Retrieved from http://yangstercomics.com/life/earths-crust/


Welcome to my science blog!

Science blogging, ab initio

Welcome to my first blog where science will be the foundational theme!  My blog is ensconced within Get Real! Science—an educational program dedicated to science teacher preparation and science teaching.  Each week’s post, therefore, will cover a specific science topic framed within an educational window as much as possible.  As my cohort and I progress through our Fall 2018 course covering theories and practices in teaching and learning science, this blog will be built around topics we encounter, and much more!

As a new media literacy, blogging offers a means to develop a science identity for teacher and pupil, and provides access to resources and audiences via social networks via a variety of modalities (Luehmann & Borasi, 2011).  As a pupil, I plan to use this blog as the ab initio foray into my public expressions of science topics, especially those in geosciences and how these may be covered in education.

Why I love science

Like many youngsters, I grew up spending most of my time in the outdoors exploring the natural world around our family farm.  Memories of climbing trees to peek into bird nests or to taste the first fall apple, and observing the splendor of the changing seasons continue to remind me to make time for the science all around us.  The wonders of nature held me spellbound for much of my youth, even the simple act of peering close into the petite florets of Queen Anne’s Lace so fragrant with the scent of carrots – hence the colloquial name “Wild carrot”, or in Latin, Daucus carota.


(Left) Deutchlands Flora in Abbildungen, Jacob Sturm und Johann Georg Sturm (1796) Original Description Echte Möhre, Daucus carota. (Right) Photo by Richard Katz – Copyright 2004 Flower Essence Society.

My earlier life spent so often in nature eventually lead me to the physical sciences, where I became captivated with geology – the science of Earth.  It is within this world where I will focus this science blog, exploring both historical and modern topics in geoscience and its epistemologies and ontologies.  Included will be references to some important figures in geosciences who have transformed the discipline, such as the early founders of plate tectonic theory.  Finally, and most importantly for this blog, I will discuss some of the intersections of the geosciences with a great many other sciences – including the social sciences.


Rio Grande River within the Rio Grande Rift at Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico.

Goals for Ms. D’s Science Blog

Through blogging, I plan to accomplish the following:

  1. Develop my online identity as a science blogger, starting within the framework of Get Real! Science and our Fall 2018 course, Theory and Practice in Teaching and Learning Science.  Each week’s blog will relate in some way to a topic covered in our course.
  2. Build my core science voice through teaching and learning science, reflecting on science topics, disseminating science information, creating science content to add to the science epistemology, making connections from science to other disciplines, and even sharing fun aspects of science such as art and comedy (yes, science is funny – have you even seen a dung beetle?)
  3. Inform my own doctoral research goals in geoscience and education.
  4. Establish a network of blogging peers through current and past generations of the Get Real! Science community and interested followers in the greater science community.
  5. Contemplate contemporary science issues, engage in debate over science policies, and provoke with contentious science topics.
  6. Create a space to recognize contributions from historical and current figures in science and their successes and failures.
  7. Provide a photo collage of anything science-related that will bring these blog words to life!
  8. Inspire others to create their own science (or other) blog!

How you can get involved

Comments are most welcome in my blogs!  Please leave a trace of your visit through a word or two about your impressions of topics covered, ask questions, challenge me, refute me, or send along a virtual pat on the back (chocolate would be welcome too).  Be sure to check the links to my cohort in this blog and in the Get Real! Science site:  www.getrealscience.org.

See you next week!

Ms. D


Luehmann, A., Borasi, R. (2011).  Blogging as Change: Transforming Science and Math Education through New   Media Literacies. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishers.