The study of earth, air, and water is called “earth science.” Meteorology, geology, environmental science, climatology, and oceanography are all examples of Earth sciences. The Earth sciences are very important. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to predict the weather, study the ocean, or make electronics. 

Founded in 1998 by the American Geosciences Institute, Earth Science Week is a global event that educates the public about the importance of Earth science. The theme of Earth Science Week 2020 is “Earth Materials in Our Lives.”

What are Earth Materials?

Earth materials are raw materials, meaning they are naturally produced by the Earth. Rocks, water, soil, and minerals are all Earth materials, but there are Earth materials that are a lot harder to find. For example, “precious metals” like gold and silver are rare and also extremely valuable. Precious metals are used to create electronics and industrial tools. 

The periodic table contains 118 elements, including metals and nonmetals. Of these, 17 are considered “rare earth metals,” which are mined from the ground. Engineers use these metals to build all kinds of things like televisions, computers, mobile phones, batteries, military equipment, and much, much more. 

Prior to the 1960s, industries didn’t have a whole lot of use for rare earth elements, but with the rise of the information age, demand has exploded. Today, about 5 billion people own a mobile device, and these contain a large number of elements. Your smartphone contains about 30 elements, like copper and silver, whereas the bright colors you see on the screen are made from rare earth metals like terbium, yttrium, and dysprosium. While these elements are helping engineers create new technologies that benefit humans, mining for them can create heaps of toxic waste.

This year, Earth Science Week asks participants to explore the costs and benefits of using Earth materials in commercial products, and how to adopt policies and practices that maximize the benefits for humans while minimizing harm to the environment, according to its website.

How to celebrate Earth Science Week

To celebrate Earth Science Week, check the database for an event near you, plan your own event, a classroom activity, or participate in a contest.

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