Environmental science is an interdisciplinary academic field that integrates physical, biological and information sciences (including ecology, biology, physics, chemistry, plant science, zoology, mineralogy, oceanography, limnology, soil science, geology and physical geography (geodesy), and atmospheric science) to the study of the environment, and the solution of environmental problems. Environmental science emerged from the fields of natural history and medicine during the Enlightenment. Today it provides an integrated, quantitative, and interdisciplinary approach to the study of environmental systems.
Related areas of study include environmental studies and environmental engineering. Environmental studies incorporates more of the social sciences for understanding human relationships, perceptions and policies towards the environment. Environmental engineering focuses on design and technology for improving environmental quality in every aspect.
Environmental scientists work on subjects like the understanding of earth processes, evaluating alternative energy systems, pollution control and mitigation, natural resource management, and the effects of global climate change. Environmental issues almost always include an interaction of physical, chemical, and biological processes. Environmental scientists bring a systems approach to the analysis of environmental problems. Key elements of an effective environmental scientist include the ability to relate space, and time relationships as well as quantitative analysis.
Environmental science came alive as a substantive, active field of scientific investigation in the 1960s and 1970s driven by (a) the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to analyze complex environmental problems, (b) the arrival of substantive environmental laws requiring specific environmental protocols of investigation and (c) the growing public awareness of a need for action in addressing environmental problems. Events that spurred this development included the publication of Rachel Carson's landmark environmental book Silent Spring along with major environmental issues becoming very public, such as the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, and the Cuyahoga River of Cleveland, Ohio, "catching fire" (also in 1969), and helped increase the visibility of environmental issues and create this new field of study.