Are you concerned about the future of the Earth? How is global climate changing? How and where should we dispose of industrial wastes? Are you curious as to how society's growing demands for energy and water can be satisfied while conserving natural resources for future generations? If these are some of the issues that interest you then a future career in the area of Earth Science and the Environment might be for you.
Over the past decade, heightened public awareness of environmental issues, together with EU legislation have lead to growth in environmental careers, particularly in the areas of waste and energy management, and sustainable development. Under EU Directive 2009/28/EC, Ireland is legally obliged to ensure that by 2020, at least 16% of all energy consumed in the state is from renewable sources, with a subtarget of 10% in the transport sector. Pat Rabbitte, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, in the Government document 'Strategy for Renewable Energy 2012-2020' acknowledges renewable energy, smart grid development, and energy efficiency products and services as key sub sectors of the green economy. The global clean tech market is estimated at 3.5 trillion Euro with the potential to grow by more than 4% per year up to 2015, and potential for the creation of an additional 10,000 jobs across the sector.
The range of employers who recruit in this area is large and includes the following:
- Voluntary sector (e.g. conservation charities, pressure groups)
- Public sector (e.g. regulatory bodies, such as local authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency, research institutes, education establishments)
- Private sector (e.g. industry - including ESB, Bord Gais and Bord na Mona, along with those involved in resource management, such as the water and forestry industries, environmental consultants)
People who work the Earth Science and environment sector gather and interpret data about the Earth and its environment as well as other planets. They use their knowledge to increase our understanding of how the Earth functions in order to improve the quality of human life. Work is often divided between time spent in the field, the laboratory, and the office. The work that scientists are engaged with in this sector could involve all or any combinations of the following tasks:
- Developing natural resources such as wind, wave and solar energy in ways that safeguard the environment.
- Predicting the behavior of Earth systems and the universe.
- Finding adequate supplies of natural resources, such as ground water, petroleum, and metals.
- Conserving soils and maintaining agricultural productivity.
- Maintaining quality of water supplies.
- Reducing human suffering and property loss from natural hazards, such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, landslides, hurricanes, and tsunamis.
- Determining geological controls on natural environments and habitats and predicting the impact of human activities on them.
- Defining the balance between society's demand for natural resources and the need to sustain healthy ecosystems.
- Understanding and communicating global climate patterns.
The Earth Sciences
Earth Science is the study of the Earth and its neighbors in space. It is an exciting science with many interesting and practical applications. Some Earth scientists use their knowledge of the Earth to locate and develop energy and mineral resources. Others study the impact of human activity on Earth's environment and design methods to protect the planet. Some use their knowledge about Earth processes such as volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes to plan communities that will not expose people to these dangerous events.
The Four Earth Sciences
Many different sciences are used to learn about the earth, however, the four basic areas of Earth science study are:
Geology: Science of the Earth
Geology is the primary Earth science. The word means "study of the Earth". Geology deals with the composition of Earth materials, Earth structures, and Earth processes. It is also concerned with the organisms of the planet and how the planet has changed over time. Geologists search for fuels and minerals, study natural hazards, and work to protect Earth's environment.
Meteorology: Science of the Atmosphere
Meteorology is the study of the atmosphere and how processes in the atmosphere determine Earth's weather and climate. Meteorology is a very practical science because everyone is concerned about the weather. How climate changes over time in response to the actions of people is a topic of urgent worldwide concern. The study of meteorology is of critical concern for protecting Earth's environment.
Oceanography: Science of the Oceans
Oceanography is the study of Earth's oceans - their composition, movement, organisms and processes. The oceans cover most of our planet and are important resources for food and other commodities. They are increasingly being used as an energy source. The oceans also have a major influence on the weather and changes in the oceans can drive or moderate climate change. Oceanographers work to develop the ocean as a resource and protect it from human impact. The goal is to utilize the oceans while minimizing the effects of our actions.
Astronomy: Science of the Universe
Astronomy is the study of the universe. Here are some examples of why studying space beyond Earth is important: the moon drives the ocean's tidal system, asteroid impacts have repeatedly devastated Earth's inhabitants and energy from the sun drives our weather and climates. A knowledge of astronomy is essential to understanding the Earth. Astronomers can also use a knowledge of Earth materials, processes and history to understand other planets - even those outside of our own solar system.
The Environment Sector
Environmental Science is the study of the myriad interactions between humans and the world around them, living and non-living. As Earth’s human population continues to grow, as technology advances and human needs and wants increase, our impacts on the world become more widespread and severe, despite improvement in some areas. Environmental impacts, in turn, affect human health and well being.
A few of the major challenges that are topics for environmental science include:
- Global Climate Change (global warming, its causes and all of its consequences)
- Management of Earth's water resources
- Energy and mineral resource depletion
- Meeting the food, fibre and clothing needs of a growing World population
- Air pollution and acid deposition (rain)
- Water pollution
- The loss of fisheries
- The spread of infectious diseases, including those caused by organisms that have developed antibiotic resistance
- Long term sustainability of the Global and national economies
- The fate of hazardous chemicals in the environment
- Potential environmental effects of genetic engineering
All of the above and other environmental challenges are multidisciplinary in nature. That is, in order to understand each environmental challenge sufficiently well to develop viable solutions, scientists must assemble expertise in several disciplines. It is true that no single scientist will be an expert in all of the facets of the several disciplines needed to address any one problem in detail, but it is also important that environmental scientists, decision makers and other workers in the field understand the different sciences sufficiently well to communicate with those of other specialties and to appreciate the importance of other disciplines in addressing challenges.
At a minimum, the well trained environmental scientist will be conversant in physics, chemistry, biology, ecology and geology. The environmental scientist will also be familiar with the relevant economic, social and political science, because all three are essential to understanding not only how humans come to affect the environment, but also what options are available for action, because technical fixes will rarely, if ever, solve an environmental problem once and for all. Politics, economics and cultural adjustment will each contribute its share to any viable solution.
Getting into the Earth Science / Environment Sector
A strong interest in science and a good general education are the most important elements in becoming a scientist working in this area. The geosciences draw on biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and engineering. Selecting science subjects for Leaving Cert would open the way to a Level 8 Degree in science. It is important to gain a solid grounding in English, because geoscientists need to be able to write and speak clearly.
In choosing a college or university, look at the course listings for departments of geology, geoscience, earth-systems science, or environmental science to identify the type course that best matches your interests. As in any profession, the applicants with the best qualifications get the best jobs. Many professional positions in the geosciences require a Masters degree. A Ph.D. is needed for advancement in college teaching and in most high-level research positions.
Upskilling for the Renewable Energy Sector
Rapid growth in the Environment and green energy sector has led to an explosion in the number of training schemes available as there is a growing demand for a properly trained green workforce. The main courses out there centre around:
BER - Building Energy Rating
Since 1st January 2009, a BER certificate is compulsory for all homes being either sold or rented. Homes are rated on a scale of A - G to see how energy efficient they are. A BER is calculated by considering components of the residence including the roof, door and window sizes and examining how it has been constructed. BER assessments can only be carried out by a Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) registered assessor. To gain this accreditation, you have to complete a BER course and register with SEI.
Air Pressure Testing
Since July 2008, air pressure / air tightness tests are legally required for all new homes. Air pressure testing is a valuable exercise for any home as it leads to a reduction in draughts and heat loss, thus increasing energy efficiency. The measurement of air tightness also represents an important factor in fire safety as the development of an air-tight barrier blocks oxygen which is obviously a feeding agent for fire.
Air pressure testing is carried out in a large number of commercial buildings in order to maximise the efficiency of air conditioning units. Air pressure courses will train you how to carry out a proper assessment and use the required equipment.
Thermal testing or thermography measures variations in temperature and the amount of radiation released by an object. Thermal testing is used for a wide range of uses including firefighting, monitoring heat loss, veterinary treatment and manufacturing.
Thermography courses train people to be able to use an infrared camera in order to determine the amount of heat radiation coming from an object. The heat radiation will show up on the camera as different colours, according to its source.
Thermal imaging courses train people to identify areas of heat and become familiar with the electromagnetic spectrum and how to use thermal imaging cameras.
Renewable Installer Training
The rapid pace of growth in the renewable industry has meant that new technologies are constantly being added. Training is needed in order to become fully competent in the installation and service of all equipment used in renewable technologies, for example solar panels and wind turbines.
Insulation Installer Training
Insulation is vital for reducing the carbon footprint of buildings and can provide an effective way to reduce fuel bills, which is particularly relevant for these testing economic times that we currently find ourselves in. The demand for insulation is steadily growing and represents an important area of job creation.
Insulation installer training courses provide participants with an introduction to insulation materials and train them to become fully versed in building regulations and the correct way to carry out an insulation assessment for a building. The courses also outline the key requirements for insulating various types of buildings.