Earth Systems Overview

If you have not already done so, please read the introduction and preparations  prior to beginning the module.

  • The Context for Climate:
    Our Earth’s Systems

    This module prepared for
    Earth to Sky Interagency Partnership Courses
    September 2015

  • Part 1: What is Earth System Science?

    globe da-vinci


     
    “Realize that everything is connected to everything else.”

    – Leonardo Da Vinci, 1452-1519

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  • Earth System Science takes the main components of planet Earth—the atmosphere, oceans, freshwater, ice, rocks, soils, and life—and seeks to understand these as well as the interactions between these components.

    Earth System Diagram

    “It is the need to study and understand these between-component interactions that defines Earth System Science as a discipline in its own right.”
    (Lawton, John. Earth System Science. Science, 15 Jun 2001, v. 292 Issue 5524, p. 1965)

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  • What is a System?

    • A system is an interconnected set of components that are linked through interconnections that function to create an outcome.
    • The interaction of components and their interactions create system behavior.
    • We are familiar with human systems: nervous system, circulatory system, digestive system.

    Football-team-c1916A football team is a system with

    Components: players, coach, field, and ball.

    Interconnections: rules of the game, the coach's strategy, the players' communications, and the laws of physics that govern the motions of ball and players.

    The purpose of the team is to win games, or have fun, or get exercise, or make millions of dollars, or all of the above.

     
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  • A bicycle is a system composed of a set of components that interact to provide transportation.

    Guyon Bike lo

    Components

    wheels
    brakes
    handlebars
    pedals
    frame

    The interaction of all these components
    is what allows the system to function.

    Each component of the system also has elements. For example, the elements of the wheels include the metal rim, the rubber tire, the spokes, the hub, and a wheel bearing; pedals include metal struts, rubber foot rests, bolts, bearings, etc.

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  • Just Like a Bicycle, Earth is a System of Systems

    Earth east medium

    As you consider the topic of Climate Change it is important to understand that climate scientists’ investigations hinge on the notion that Earth is a system, which is comprised of sub systems (aka components or spheres) that are linked to each other through a variety of processes. A basic understanding of Earth Systems Science provides a foundation and a context for climate science, for your own and potentially visitors/students understanding.

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  • lab-scientist-cclicensedHow Do Scientists Study Earth?
    The Scientific Method and Earth Systems Science

    Note: Earth Systems scientists are also known as Geoscientists or simply, Earth scientists. Climate Science is one discipline within Earth or Earth Systems Science.

    Assignment (should take 15 min maximum)

    1. State the scientific method as you understand it.
    2. Read Multiple Modes of Inquiry in Earth Science (If you have not already downloaded this article, please do so now).

    http://www.nsta.org/publications/article.aspx?id=SnFzKNpjhDQ=

    This article was written for classroom educators, but the information about Earth scientists is applicable for our work. Below are some suggested guiding questions to consider as you read.

    1. In the article, the authors contrast (a) the methods geoscientists use with (b) the classic "scientific method" as it is taught in schools. What is the difference between those two things?
    2. What are the geoscience methods that the authors describe?
    3. How might you use this explanation of scientific method when communicating about climate change?
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  • In your reading did you note these main ideas?

    13057600crosssection20150820USGS scientist measuring streamflow to document 2015 droughtSix modes of inquiry widely used by practicing geoscientists include:

    1. The classic laboratory experiment
    2. Observation of change over time
    3. Comparison of ancient artifacts with products of active processes
    4. Observation of variations across space
    5. Use of physical models
    6. Application of computer models
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  • Part 2: Looking at Earth as a System

    and Applying that to Your Site

    Snow Geese arrive at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge


    Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
    - Albert Einstein

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  • Using Your Site Photo to Explore a Systems View of Your Site

    quill
    1. Find the photo you took of your site, and the tracing paper or plastic overlay.
    2. Lay the tracing paper or plastic on top of your photo.
    3. Be sure to have an implement handy that will write on your paper or plastic overlay.
    4. Use your image to follow along and take notes, as we explore Earth’s system as it applies to your location.

    covered-bridge-tracing
    Here is an example photo and tracing paper/plastic overlay. Image from GLOBE.gov.
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  • system-of-systemsLooking at Earth as a System of Systems

    Earth approximates a closed system made of interconnected components called “spheres.”

    Each of Earth’s Spheres function as open systems, which are interconnected through various processes and cycles. Scientists describe four major spheres for Earth: geosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and atmosphere. (In this module the cryosphere – ice – is considered a part of the hydrosphere.)

    Assignment: Watch the 6 minute movie, "Big Idea 3"

    In a closed system, energy enters and leaves but material does not. In an open system, both energy and material enter and leave. In an isolated system, neither energy nor material enter or leave.

    Image credits: Jennifer Loomis, TERC/Biosphere image provided by ORBIMAGE © Orbital Imaging Corporation. Processing by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Image source: Exploring Earth

  • system-of-systemsThe Earth System is Comprised of Spheres
    That Contain Elements

    Each sphere is made up of elements. For example, a bird is an element of the biosphere; a pond is an element of the hydrosphere.

    Let’s take a brief look at each of Earth’s Spheres and elements of each, at your site.

    Image credits: Jennifer Loomis, TERC/Biosphere image provided by ORBIMAGE © Orbital Imaging Corporation. Processing by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Image source: Exploring Earth

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  • geosphere Elements of the geosphere include the surface rocks and soils as well as Earth’s interior.

    quillTake a look at your photo of your site. Can you identify a few elements of the geosphere at your location? Label them on your overlay or sketch.

    covered-bridge mouse
    Hover above to get the hint.

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  • HydrosphereElements of the hydrosphere include all bodies of surface water as well as ground water.

    quillTake a look at your photo of your site. Can you identify a few elements of the hydrophere at your location? Label them on your overlay or sketch.

    covered-bridge mouse
    Hover above to get the hint.

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  • BiosphereElements of the biosphere include all living plants and animals, from the smallest single celled organisms to the largest trees and animals on the planet.

    quillTake a look at your photo of your site. Can you identify a few elements of the biosphere at your location? Label them on your overlay or sketch.

    covered-bridge mouse
    Hover above to get the hint.

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  • AtmosphereElements of the atmosphere include several different gases (nitrogen and oxygen in the greatest abundance) as well as clouds, water vapor, and solid particles such as dust and pollen.

    quillTake a look at your photo of your site. Can you identify a few elements of the atmosphere at your location? Label them on your overlay or sketch.

    covered-bridge mouse
    Hover above to get the hint.

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  • Note that Each Sphere Holds Matter and Energy

    atom-29539 1280

    Matter
    Although it is obvious that the hydrosphere holds water, there is also water in the biosphere, water in the atmosphere, and water in the soil (pedosphere). Each of the spheres also holds oxygen, various forms of carbon, and other chemical elements or materials. All of the matter on Earth can be placed in one or more spheres.

    alzate sdo rgb 0

    Energy in the spheres is mostly in the form of heat energy or chemical energy. For example, there is a vast amount of heat energy in the atmosphere or in the hydrosphere.

    The greatest source of this heat energy is the Sun.

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  • Earth’s Systems are Connected by the Flow and Exchange of Energy and Matter

    EnergyFlowsFINAL ESSInterconnections

    Energy and matter are always circulating among the spheres, connecting them in many ways. Sometimes this circulation can happen very quickly, such as when a volcano erupts, moving tons of tiny particles from the geosphere into the atmosphere. Other examples of circulation happen much more slowly, such as when a fallen tree decays and nutrients move from the biosphere to the pedosphere.

    Image courtesy of GLOBE.gov

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  • covered-bridgeThink About How Energy Flows

    Energy is transferred within and between spheres

    For example:

    • The sun warms the ground (geosphere), which transfers its heat to the atmosphere by radiation.
    • Warm air transfers heat to cooler land surfaces by conduction.
    • Rivers and ocean currents move heat energy from one place to another by convection.

    covered-bridgeAssignment

    quillTake another look at your site photo. Can you identify one or two ways in which energy is flowing, and being transferred within and between spheres? Diagram this on your overlay or sketch.

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  • Think About Matter Cycling...

    Matter Cycling
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  • Processes Move Matter

    Whenever matter moves from one sphere into another, some process, driven by energy, causes it to happen. Here are some examples:

    400px-Evaporationfog
    Water moves from a lake (hydrosphere) into the air (atmosphere) by a process called evaporation.

    halfdome
    Minerals move from rock (geosphere) into the soil (pedosphere) by the process of weathering.

    boy-breath-cold-213x300Carbon dioxide moves from your body (biosphere) into the air (atmosphere) by a process called respiration.

    Sage thrasher Processes move matter not only from one sphere to another, but also from one element of a sphere to another element of a sphere.

    For example:

    Nutrients move from a plant (biosphere) into a bird’s body (biosphere) by the processes of consumption and digestion.

     
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  • Carbon Cycling and Processes at Your Site

    Assignment:  Take another look at your site photo. Can you identify a few ways in which carbon is cycling, and the processes that are moving it within and between spheres? Diagram this on your overlay or sketch.

    covered-bridge

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  • Your overlay or sketch should now look something like this example.

    overlay-sketch

    You’ve been thinking about your site in terms of Earth’s systems. Might you use this approach to help explain the connections between your site and where your visitors live?

    Image from GLOBE.gov

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  • Pinatubo-usgs-06-12-91Mt. Pinatubo eruption. USGS imageRecall that Earth System Processes Take Place on Both Local and Global Scales

    You’ve just explored some processes occurring at the local scale of your own site, and may be thinking about how they are linked to global processes.

    Pictured to the right is a global-scale example.

    Q: In one-two sentences state the process and the spheres involved.

    mouse
    Hover above to get the hint.

    Are there processes occurring at your site or in your region that have global consequences?

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  • Summary of Part Two

    The Earth system behaves as a single, self-regulating closed system with physical, chemical, and biological components.

    The interactions and feedbacks between these components are complex and take place on multiple scales of time and space.

    The focus of Earth system science is understanding the interactions between the oceans and ice, atmosphere, life, geological processes and the land surface, and how those interactions impact each other and lead to changes on our planet.

  • Part 3: Earth’s Climate System
    Operates at Global, Regional
    and Local Scales that are Linked

    Monarch butterflies

     

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