The environmental sciences are a mixture of disciplines. In a number of ways, they typify science and its development. The environmental sciences combine the intellectual content of several disciplines into a new discipline. A consequence is that defining environmental sciences should be done with care. The terms will mean different things to different people.
The main constituents in environmental sciences are chemistry, biology, zoology, geoscience, ecology, and the engineering fields. To its credit, the environmental sciences incorporated these fields in a very short time and with remarkable continuity. Early in the 1970s a variety of scientists and technologists were publishing in newly established environmental sciences journals. The field was hot, and some researchers in chemistry, biology, and other fields found it easier to publish in journals that were new and hungry for solid papers. The environmental sciences were also a hot area for federally funded research in the early 1970s and beyond. The combination of funding and movement into an area perceived as fast-moving and cutting-edge was very attractive to some researchers.
The downturn in federal funding and the maturing of the discipline has tended to stabilize the field. It is still a field made up of persons who, for the most part, were trained in other disciplines. Because of their relative youth, the environmental sciences are predominately journal-driven with heavy reliance on conferences to assist in pulling the literature together. Monographs are being written, but fewer than in other fields.
One bibliographic consequence of the environmental sciences’ use of such a variety of literature is difficulty with finding and controlling that literature. The environmental sciences were lucky, however. The expansion of the field came at a time when funding for abstracting and indexing services were available and when computerized indexing and automation techniques were becoming widely used in the secondary literature. Environmental Abstracts is an example of an abstracting and indexing tool.
The future for the environmental sciences is one of maturation. This means there will be some consolidation of journals and secondary sources. It means an expansion in some areas of the field, with a concomitant increase in the number of journals and the inevitable lag time for the material to find its way into the secondary literature.
In using the material below, the reader must exercise more caution than in any other area of science and technology. The researcher or reference librarian must note that in more cases than not, there is a parallel literature in another discipline in addition to that found in the environmental sciences.