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The ESSC programme provides students with solid scientific and mathematical foundation of the Earth System. The focus is on physical processes within the atmosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere, their interactions, and how human activities shape the Earth’s environment. Two streams are available: Atmospheric Science and Geophysics, where students are intro-duced to cutting-edge research on related topics. Students who complete this programme will be equipped with strong analytic and computational skills. They would be able to build their research and career capacities via laboratory work, numerical modeling and programming, seminars, workshops, and research projects.

Correlated Dynamics Unravelled

The Earth System Science (ESSC) programme was founded in 2012 by CUHK’s Faculty of Science. ‘The curriculum focuses on systemic and interdisciplinary research of the Earth such as geology, meteorology and oceanography. Our students study the Earth’s dynamics as an interrelated system comprising spheres such as the atmosphere, the geosphere and the biosphere,’ said Prof. Wong Teng-fong, director of ESSC.

Sophy Wu is a graduate of ESSC. Before she was admitted to CUHK, she was caught between two favourite subjects, geography and chemistry, for her undergraduate studies until she discovered a new programme—ESSC. ‘I learnt that ESSC is an interdisciplinary programme for students who love science and are prepared to tackle environmental challenges facing the world today. I found it undoubtedly my best choice as I aspired to be a scientist in quest of solutions for the Earth’s problems.’

During her undergraduate studies, Sophy had benefited from the flexible curriculum as she could decide her own study patterns according to her background in fundamental science subjects such as physics and chemistry. ‘We were encouraged to deepen our research interest by choosing advance courses we’re more confident in.’ She could also take electives offered by the Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics departments, or the School of Life Science, to broaden her knowledge. Professor Wong added, ‘ESSC strives to groom its students’ inquisitive mind. All of them are required to choose a specialized stream—atmospheric science or geophysics—for more in-depth exploration.’

Sophy experienced some struggles when she was first exposed to diverse disciplines in the sciences, but the faculty’s advice and peer support helped her realize the importance of analyzing and integrating the interdisciplinary knowledge acquired. ‘To solve the Earth’s problems requires a knowledge synthesis process and an out-of-the-box mindset. The training in ESSC has nurtured my multiple-perspective thinking,’ said Sophy. ‘I was in the geophysics stream. We attempted to apply some statistical methods for a seismological analysis in a group presentation, which were often used in atmospheric science. My classmates from the atmospheric science stream found the analysis interesting as the method was applied in a way they had never seen before, and they further furnished us with valuable advice to improve our research. Such a learning dynamics is absolutely invaluable.’

The advance courses in geophysics, in addition to her exposure such as field studies and research projects, enabled Sophy to find her research interest and direction. ‘My final year project was related to a topic in the advance course, which could be worth exploring in my postgraduate studies too. I envision myself to be a scientist who could efficiently and creatively apply cross-disciplinary knowledge in my research focus. After my postgraduate studies, I might stay in the academia so as to continue unravelling the mysteries of nature as well as protecting the Earth and, if possible, to pass the knowledge to the next generation.’ Some of Sophy’s classmates were given opportunities to explore their career directions by interning at the Hong Kong Observatory, as well as other geotechnical companies and environmental organizations.

The fond memories of university life still linger in Sophy’s mind. ‘My classmates were passionate in earth system science and they were all very diligent. We all loved to spend extra time doing research and engaging in fruitful discussions, while working on group projects.’ Field studies were part of Sophy’s most unforgettable moments. ‘We helped and encouraged one another while passing through rough terrains. Enjoying the breathtaking scenery alongside, we discovered some geological features and had insightful discussions on geology.’

Equipped with training in analytical and quantitative analyses, research methodologies, fieldtrip and internship experiences, ESSC students are able to deepen their understanding of the Earth system and delve into crucial issues such as natural hazards, climate change, ecological health, energy resources and sustainability. Professor Wong further elaborated, ‘Graduates can further their studies on ESSC (or one of its sub-disciplines) in the graduate schools. They can also embark on pathways in education, environmental consulting, government positions related to the environment, weather/climate services, exploration of natural resources, and geotechnical and fluid engineering as required in infrastructure, hydraulics, aviation and defense.’

One special feature of ESSC is a strong emphasis on fundamental physical sciences and the use of quantitative methods for understanding the dynamics of the Earth system. Professor Wong said, ‘Prospective students with a keen interest in the Earth system, intellectual curiosity, and eagerness to solve environmental problems with scientific principles and quantitative skills are welcome to explore the correlated dynamics of the Earth and also our big family.’

Published: Summer 2017
Last Updated: Summer 2018