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Biogeochemistry is an interdisciplinary field of study that is concerned with the various processes that affect the makeup of nature, including the earth and the atmosphere. These processes can be chemical, biological, physical, or geological in nature, hence the name biogeochemistry. The field is closely related to ecology in that it is concerned with much of the life on earth, though it is more focused on purely environmental concerns than ecology is. The field is particularly interested in the broad cyclical processes that some elements and substances, such as carbon, nitrogen, and water, go through. In the carbon cycle, for example, a biogeochemist traces the movement of carbon through the atmosphere, integration into organisms, release through decay, and many other processes.
The natural environment with which biogeochemistry is concerned is composed of many different parts. The biosphere, which contains all ecosystems, is essentially the summation of life on earth. The lithosphere includes the outer crust of the earth, or the generally-rocky outer layer of any planet that changes significantly over time. The hydrosphere includes all of the water on earth, the pedosphere includes the outermost layer of land and soil on the earth, and the atmosphere includes the gases surrounding the earth. All of these aspects of the earth constantly interact through many processes that are of great interest to biogeochemists.
Researchers in the field of biogeochemistry have many diverse goals as many of them specialize in different aspects of the discipline, such as chemistry, biology, ecology, or oceanography. One major focus of biogeochemical research is the development of computer models for many of the processes that these scientists study. These processes often occur over vast periods of time, so computer models allow scientists to study them in ways that are not limited by temporal concerns. Another research focus is climate change; biogeochemists are interested in monitoring and modeling climate change in order to understand its underlying causes and, if necessary, to recommend action to reverse or slow it.
Biogeochemistry is not strictly an academic concern. Biogeochemists are sometimes also active in government and in industry, usually in an advisory capacity. Biogeochemists may advise government leaders about environmental issues and actions that should be taken to correct them. They may serve a similar role in industry, advising industrial leaders about the environmental impacts of their activities and recommending prime locations for some industrial activities. Sometimes, biogeochemists are even involved in prospecting for ore deposits.
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