The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences relies on a holistic model of the Earth, incorporating physics, chemistry, astronomy, and biology to study the intimate link between human life and the Earth and its systems. In addition to bringing together a variety of disciplines for scientific discovery, the department incorporates colleagues in social sciences and humanities to address societal issues pertaining to the human/Earth interrelationship.
The facilities include laboratories with instruments for a wide range of analyses, libraries, and lecture rooms of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the University Museum and in the David and Arnold Hoffman Laboratory of Experimental Geology. A variety of external research facilities and sites are available to students for research, including the seismograph station at the George R. Agassiz Station of the Astronomical Observatory in Harvard, Massachusetts, about 25 mi. (40 km.) west of Cambridge. Harvard also has reciprocal instructional and credit-granting arrangements with MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for graduate students.
Examples of research conducted by the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences are showcased by the ecological measurements taken at Prospect Hill in Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts and on a privately owned site adjacent to Prospect Hill. On specifically sized (10 m. radius) plots, scientists record tree growth, woody debris, litter-fall, leaf litter decomposition, leaf-area increment, foliar nitrogen content, soil respiration, and soil moisture. Also at the Harvard Forest is the Fisher Museum, open to the public. The exhibit includes dioramas on central New England forests' history, conservation, and management. The museum also has self-guided interpretive trails. These trails connect the museum to the research forest.
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