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Is there an interdisciplinarity crisis in the Geosciences?

Modern Geosciences profit substantially from interdisciplinary collaboration across the natural sciences and even beyond. Some recent advances have only become possible through these efforts. Consequently, interdisciplinarity is particularly relevant for the implementation of new research directions and the appointment of professors at Geoscience departments. However, it is common that positions are filled with mathematicians, computer scientists, chemists, physicists or biologists, which use their own methods to solve Geoscience problems. There is no question that this might lead to fruitful collaboration, but in practice this situation often results in severe problems in Geoscience teaching.

First, these scientists are usually hardly able to teach fundamentals of Geosciences or field courses as they were not trained in these areas themselves. Second, highly specialized courses are offered that are often way more appealing to students outside the Geosciences because they heavily rely on concepts and methodology from other natural sciences. Third, the methods used and taught by these scientists are commonly strongly focused on quantitative data, which tends to increase a general development towards generating large data sets without applying a deeper geoscientific thinking for their meaningful interpretation (see also Şengör, 2021).

The core competence of geoscientists – solving complex multi-scale spatio-temporal problems – is unique and not replaceable. Becoming more aware of our key expertise as Geoscientists paves the way for balanced and constructive – truly interdisciplinary – interactions in teaching and research. This will significantly strengthen the role of Geosciences in taking responsibility for solving major societal challenges in the 21st century.


Dominic Hildebrandt1
1Department of Earth Sciences, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
GeoMinKöln 2022