Internal and External Processes Shaping the Earth’s Surface
The Earth’s surface is shaped by various processes that can be divided into external and internal depending on their location. Therefore, the relief of the planet in its present form is the reflection of a complicated set of such processes. Their consideration allows to reveal different types of energy involved in landscape formation. The principal external processes are weathering of rocks, which shapes the Earth’s surface, and their denudation or, in other words, removal (Ouellette, 2017). They are caused by other forces, mostly by rivers, glaciers, winds, and waves (Ouellette, 2017). The removed materials, in turn, accumulate at lower elevations such as valleys and hollows.
External processes are not the only ones that have an impact on the Earth’s surface, and they are accompanied by internal processes, which are more complex. They build land relief and affect the appearance of mountains and other geographical formations. Such changes in the interior levels of Earth result from the work of earthquakes, volcanic activity, or mountain buildings (Ouellette, 2017). The outcome of internal processes is the formation of folds and splits. For example, the process of folding is the interaction of forces with opposite directions on the Earth’s crust (Ouellette, 2017). It bends the rock layers on the surface and thereby shapes a new landscape.
Thus, the formation of the Earth’s surface is the result of the work of external and internal forces. They both have an impact on the process but differ in location and effects. Internal forces build relief through tectonic plates’ movement, whereas external influence comes from the works of rivers and glaciers. Hence, the combination of external and internal processes led to the creation of the surface in its current state.
Ouellette, V. (2017). Forces that cause landforms. Sciencing. Web.
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A photo-essay from NASA’s Earth Science Division — February 2019 Download Earth in PDF , MOBI (Kindle), or ePub formats. Purchase a copy: softcover | hardcover
Of all celestial bodies within reach or view, as far as we can see, out to the edge, the most wonderful and marvelous and mysterious is turning out to be our own planet earth. There is nothing to match it anywhere, not yet anyway. —Lewis Thomas
Sixty years ago, with the launch of Explorer 1, NASA made its first observations of Earth from space. Fifty years ago, astronauts left Earth orbit for the first time and looked back at our “blue marble.” All of these years later, as we send spacecraft and point our telescopes past the outer edges of the solar system, as we study our planetary neighbors and our Sun in exquisite detail, there remains much to see and explore at home.
We are still just getting to know Earth through the tools of science. For centuries, painters, poets, philosophers, and photographers have sought to teach us something about our home through their art.
This book stands at an intersection of science and art. From its origins, NASA has studied our planet in novel ways, using ingenious tools to study physical processes at work—from beneath the crust to the edge of the atmosphere. We look at it in macrocosm and microcosm, from the flow of one mountain stream to the flow of jet streams. Most of all, we look at Earth as a system, examining the cycles and processes—the water cycle, the carbon cycle, ocean circulation, the movement of heat—that interact and influence each other in a complex, dynamic dance across seasons and decades.
We measure particles, gases, energy, and fluids moving in, on, and around Earth. And like artists, we study the light—how it bounces, reflects, refracts, and gets absorbed and changed. Understanding the light and the pictures it composes is no small feat, given the rivers of air and gas moving between our satellite eyes and the planet below.
For all of the dynamism and detail we can observe from orbit, sometimes it is worth stepping back and simply admiring Earth. It is a beautiful, awe-inspiring place, and it is the only world most of us will ever know.
NASA has a unique vantage point for observing the beauty and wonder of Earth and for making sense of it. Looking back from space, astronaut Edgar Mitchell once called Earth “a sparkling blue and white jewel,” and it does dazzle the eye. The planet’s palette of colors and textures and shapes—far more than just blues and whites—are spread across the pages of this book.
We chose these images because they inspire. They tell a story of a 4.5-billion-year-old planet where there is always something new to see. They tell a story of land, wind, water, ice, and air as they can only be viewed from above. They show us that no matter what the human mind can imagine, no matter what the artist can conceive, there are few things more fantastic and inspiring than the world as it already is. The truth of our planet is just as compelling as any fiction.
We hope you enjoy this satellite view of Earth. It is your planet. It is NASA’s mission.
Michael Carlowicz Earth Observatory Managing Editor
The astonishing thing about the Earth... is that it is alive.... Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising Earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos.... It has the organized, self-contained look of a live creature, full of information, marvelously skilled in handling the Sun. —Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. —T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. —T.S. Eliot “Little Gidding”
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. —John Lubbock, The Use of Life
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. —John Lubbock The Use of Life
ice and snow
It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living. —David Attenborough
Imagery and data courtesy of:
- NASA Earth Observatory
- U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA Landsat Program
- International Space Station (ISS) Crew Earth Observations Facility
- LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team
- MABEL Science Team
- Level-1 and Atmosphere Archive & Distribution System Distributed Active Archive Center (LAADS DAAC)
- EO-1 Science Team
- Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP)
- NASA Ocean Biology Processing Group
- NASA/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS/Japan ASTER Science Team
Adapted for the web by Paul Przyborski
About the Authors
Michael Carlowicz is managing editor of the NASA Earth Observatory. He has written about Earth science and geophysics since 1991 for several NASA divisions, the American Geophysical Union, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and in three popular science books. He is a baseball player and fan, a longtime singer and guitarist, and the proud father of three science and engineering majors.
Kathy Carroll supports the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. She previously worked as a manager and organizer at for-profit and non-profit organizations and on political campaigns. She is a diehard baseball and hockey fan, and she volunteers with animal rescue organizations.
Lawrence Friedl directs the Applied Sciences Program in the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. He works to enable innovative and practical uses of data from Earth-observing satellites. He has worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and as a Space Shuttle flight controller in NASA’s Mission Control Center. He and his wife have three children, and he enjoys ultimate frisbee and hiking.
Stephen Schaeberle is a graphic designer with the Communications Support Services Center at NASA Headquarters. He holds a bachelor of fine arts from the Pratt Institute, and he has received numerous awards and honors for his work and designs. He enjoys boating and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay.
Kevin Ward manages NASA’s Earth Observatory Group, including the Earth Observatory, Visible Earth, NASA Earth Observations (NEO), and EONET. He holds a master’s degree in library and information science and has spent more than 20 years developing Web-accessible resources in support of NASA Earth science communications. He and his wife have a son and a deep love of music.
Just a few names end up on the title page of a book, but it takes an entire cast of people to bring it from idea to draft to finished product. The cast for Earth begins with Maxine Aldred, Andrew Cooke, Tun Hla, and Lisa Jirousek, who shepherded the words and images through design and layout. Thanks are also due to Kathryn Hansen, Pola Lem, Rebecca Lindsey, Holli Riebeek, Michon Scott, and Adam Voiland, whose reporting and writing contributions gave this book its depth. Joshua Stevens, Robert Simmon, Jesse Allen, Jeff Schmaltz, Michael Taylor, and Norman Kuring applied their strong visual sense and processing skills to make each image pop with color and texture while remaining scientifically accurate.
We owe a debt to our scientific and outreach colleagues, who keep the satellites running, the sensors sensing, and the data and imagery flowing. Every one of the images in this book is publicly available through the Internet, truly making science accessible to every citizen. The Landsat teams at the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA, the LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, and the NASA Earth Observatory deserve extra gratitude for making our planet visible to the scientist and the layman every day.
Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth's Surface (2010)
Chapter: 1 the importance of earth surface processes, chapter one the importance of earth surface processes, 1.1 introduction.
Earth’s surface is the arena for most life and all human activity, yet what lies beneath our feet is as mysterious as it is familiar. Earth scientists or not, we recognize hills, mountains, glaciers, deserts, rivers, wetlands, and shorelines. If a good deal of rain falls, floods may occur; if a storm strikes the coast, the beach may erode; if we are careless with our soil, we may damage or even lose it. These ideas are well known, but with just a few questions we arrive at the edge of our knowledge and face gaps that matter to our safety, our food and water security, the infrastructure of roads and river navigation, and the survival and diversity of ecosystems and services they provide.
Any familiar landscape illustrates the point ( Figure 1.1 ). Start with a stream channel and ask a series of simple questions: What controls its size, pattern, and magnitude of flooding? What plants and animals live in and along this stream, and how do biological processes—including human activities—affect the downstream flow of nutrients and water? Next, look about and wonder how this stream relates to its valley and the surrounding hillslopes. How did these landforms arise, and how are they related to one another? Why are hillslopes usually mantled with soil, and why is that soil so much richer and more complex than simple ground bedrock? In addition to landforms and their mantling soil, landscapes host a set of interconnected ecosystems, both visible and microscopic. How have these ecosystems shaped and been shaped by Earth’s surface? How is the flow of nutrients that nourishes ecosystems connected to the landscape? Finally, if we take the longest view, our stream is part of a network that forms a kind of continental circulatory system, carrying water, sediment, nutrients, and biota from high ground to low-lying coastlines. How did this system come to be, how long has it existed, and how is it related to climate (modern and past) or to the tectonic forces that shape continents? How will it behave in the future, and how do human activities influence that behavior?
FIGURE 1.1 Landscapes at Earth’s surface host a suite of interconnected landforms and processes that can remain stable for long periods of time and can also respond rapidly to changes in climate or land use. In this view of a recently deglaciated valley in the Juneau Icefield, Alaska, surface features comprise hillslopes, rock falls and slides, glaciers (in the far distance, upper right corner of the image), alluvial fans, streams, wetlands, and biota. Integral processes less visible than the landforms and land cover include weathering, soil formation, climate, surface and groundwater flow, nutrient fluxes, and tectonics. SOURCE: Photograph courtesy of Dorothy Merritts, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Other than a basic goal of explaining the form, composition, and evolution of landscapes, why might questions about Earth surface processes near a stream, or similar types of questions posed along a coastline or in a fragile arctic landscape, matter? At present, we are unable to make confident, process-oriented predictions of how landscapes respond to change. If climate change brings, for example, an increase in rainfall, will soils deliver more or fewer nutrients to groundwater and streams? If humans remove river dams and release the sediment stored behind them, as well as the nutrients and pollutants bound to the sediments, how will downstream fish habitats, estuaries, and coastal marshes be affected? Will the extra sediment stop the retreat of receding beaches, or will the sediment wash out to sea? Because of these and other such critical questions, society has become concerned about landscapes “on the edge” of potentially detrimental and irreversible change and has
heightened its demand for scientific guidance in making decisions concerning the future of Earth’s surface in light of these changes.
Spurred by growing recognition of the importance and relevance of research in these areas, the National Science Foundation (NSF) requested that the National Research Council (NRC) convene a committee to address challenges and opportunities in Earth surface processes. The committee was asked to address three tasks related to Earth surface processes in the context of both scientific and societal issues:
Assess the current state and the fundamental research questions of the field of Earth surface processes;
Identify the rate-limiting challenges or opportunities for making significant advances in the field; and
Identify the necessary intellectual collaborations and high-priority needs to meet these challenges.
In this report, the field of Earth surface processes refers to the study of the form, physical properties, composition, function, and evolution of Earth’s surface, a dynamic interface where physical, chemical, biological, and human processes cause and are affected by forcings in the Earth system, with impact-feedback loops that occur over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. This report identifies nine grand scientific challenges that exemplify compelling directions of research in Earth surface processes ( Chapter 2 ), and proposes four new, high-priority research initiatives designed to transform and strengthen the field in order to support the challenges ( Chapter 3 ). The initiatives represent pathways to meet the demands for scientific information on issues related to planning, mitigation, and response to changes in Earth’s surface now and in the future. Chapter 4 discusses the nature of the national support structure necessary to capitalize fully on these scientific opportunities.
The remainder of this chapter highlights some of the key advances and problems that have drawn attention to Earth surface processes research and contributed to its growth in the past several years. These examples focus on how Earth surface processes are interconnected or “coupled” to each other, to the atmosphere, and to the Earth’s interior; on the increasing human impact on Earth’s surface, including climate change; and on new technologies that have spurred recent theoretical advances in Earth surface processes. These topics are elaborated in greater detail in Chapters 2 and 3 .
1.2 EXAMPLES OF INTERCONNECTED EARTH SURFACE PROCESSES
Climate, tectonics, and surface processes.
Interconnected processes at Earth’s surface are coupled to those of Earth’s interior in various ways that extend to millennial and longer time scales. The height and shape of rising mountains, for example, influence regional weather patterns, which affect rates of erosion via the amount and type of precipitation. As rivers and glaciers fed by topographically controlled precipitation carve deeply into uplifted rock in tectonically active areas, their concentrated erosion draws even more rock upward due to the effect of unloading ( Figure 1.2 ). Spatial variation in erosion across a mountain belt due to climatic differences can affect the pattern of upward and lateral movement of rock toward Earth’s surface. While the volume of rock drawn into a mountain belt is affected by Earth surface processes, the composition of the rock also is altered and this change can affect climate. Chemical weathering of rock freshly exposed in rapidly uplifting mountains affects the chemistry of water draining the mountains and can draw down carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thereby influencing climate over relatively long periods of geologic time.
Even at these geologic time scales, biota are critical to the dynamic processes in mountain belts. Biotic processes mediate rates of rock breakdown (by weathering), soil development, and hillslope erosion and strongly influence the amount, size, and composition of sediment entering rivers. This sediment then influences the rate of bedrock incision, the geometry and dynamics of the channel, and the ecosystems that colonize an area.
Largely within the last 3 millennia, humans have removed and replaced land cover, hastened the erosion of upland soils, and increased sediment supply to streams from upland erosion throughout many parts of the world ( Figure 1.3 ). Worldwide damming of rivers has increased sediment trapping and residence times, however, greatly reducing the delivery of sediment to coasts and deltas. Although dams provide substantial societal benefits, including reduced flooding, hydroelectric power, and water for irrigation, their impact on sediment transport has caused the collapse of river ecosystems and starved coasts of sediment, leading to unanticipated delta subsidence, wetland loss, and greater coastal erosion.
Nearly every process on Earth’s surface has been changed by human activities, heightening the need for new research on human-landscape dynamics and for a greater capacity to predict process responses to human influence. Earth-surface scientists have a unique and timely opportunity to use new tools and integrative approaches to enhance understanding and to predict future changes. More importantly, they are in position to transfer their
FIGURE 1.2 Linked tectonic, climatic, and Earth surface processes shape—and are influenced by— topography. Satellite image of New Zealand ( top ; February 9, 2002, SeaWiFS image) reveals regional climatic processes that drive spatial variation in rates and processes of erosion that, in turn, influence tectonics. Clouds are banked along the northwestern side of the mountains (Southern Alps) on the South Island; snow covers the northwestern peaks and higher slopes; glaciers occupy valleys draining high topography. Erosion, tectonic deformation, and uplift are focused on the western flank of the mountain range. SOURCE: Provided by the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE. The schematic cross section of a convergent plate boundary ( bottom ) with similarities to the New Zealand example illustrates shortening and thickening of continental crust overlying the flowing mantle. The shape of the mountain range is influenced by climatically controlled, spatially varying erosion and its tectonic response (see also Section 2.3 ). Large black arrow indicates direction of motion of the converging plate. SOURCE: Modified after Willett (1999) and with permission of the American Geophysical Union.
FIGURE 1.3 Humans have transformed nearly all of Earth’s terrestrial surface. These maps illustrate the worldwide extent of human land-use and land-cover change: the geographic distribution of “potential vegetation” that would most likely exist in the absence of human land use ( top ); and the extent of agricultural land cover (including croplands and pastures) ( middle and bottom ) across the world during the 1990s. SOURCE: Foley et al. (2005). Reprinted with permission from AAAS.
knowledge to the greater scientific community, applied practitioners, the public, and policy makers in order to facilitate decision making.
As an example of the role of Earth surface science in providing greater understanding of Earth surface processes and in predicting systemic responses to change, consider what happens as aging dams are removed or breached. Tens of thousands of dams of various sizes have slowed the flow of rivers and trapped sediment and nutrients throughout the United States for up to hundreds of years, and dams continue to be built throughout the world. Removal of some of these aging impoundments is desired for reasons that include fish passage, human safety, and improved water quality. Yet pulses of sediment, nutrients, and pollutants are flushed from many breached reservoirs, impacting waterways, water quality, and habitat downstream. The nature and duration of downstream impacts are obvious questions of concern when dam removal is considered, but at present we are not able to predict accurately the changing rate at which sediment and nutrients will be eroded and transported downstream from a breached reservoir ( Figure 1.4 ). What happens upstream of a breached dam is equally uncertain. Can the ecological, hydrological, and geomorphic functions of marshes, streams, and floodplains that lie buried beneath reservoir sediment be recovered after dam breaching? In essence, each dam breach is an experiment in which scientists can investigate interconnected Earth surface processes. Studying such experiments requires the expertise of scientists with diverse backgrounds and an ability to integrate analytical approaches, data, and interpretations across disciplines. The outcome of this kind of integrative research is invaluable to inform engineering practice and policy.
Natural soil erosion by the energy of wind, raindrops, or running water is accelerated by almost every human use of landscapes: agriculture, grazing, and timber harvesting, for example, may expose soil over large areas of continents to greater erosive forces and, in some cases, may degrade lands beyond beneficial use ( Box 1.1 ). Soil eroded in this way may also accumulate in water bodies and create engineering or water quality issues associated with the transport of both nutrients and contaminants. Understanding and quantifying the magnitude of soil erosion and its downstream impacts across the United States are fundamental to inform policy decisions such as whether to subsidize soil conservation, to intensify cultivation for biofuel production, or to regulate land use in order to improve water quality in rivers, lakes, and estuaries. Nevertheless, considerable uncertainty exists about the magnitude of soil erosion and its downstream impacts across the United States. These uncertainties leave the nation in a fairly uninformed state that is exacerbated by inadequacies in the concepts presently used to make policy decisions related to soil conservation and land-use planning and illustrate the critical need for a better understanding of Earth surface processes.
FIGURE 1.4 What happens when a dam is breached? Within months of dam removal (in upper left of image) in the spring of 2008, more than 180,000 m 3 of sediment—far greater than predicted—was scoured from the upper part of the Milltown Reservoir, Clark Fork River, Montana. The Clark Fork River flows from lower right to upper left of image. Colors represent scour amounts determined by calculating the difference between digital elevation models of post-dam removal topography generated from an airborne lidar (light detection and ranging) 1 survey and of pre-dam removal topography from photogrammetry and bathymetric surveys. Immediately upstream of the dam site is a Superfund remediation area, where contaminated mining-derived sediments isolated from the river by berms are being mechanically excavated. Eroded sediment, which included arsenic from historic mining, was carried up to 200 kilometers downstream. SOURCE: Data from surveys commissioned by State of Montana; figure produced by and courtesy of Douglas Brinkerhoff and Andrew Wilcox, University of Montana.
A relatively recent human impact that has great import to Earth surface processes is climate change. Although climate change research has made significant advances in recent decades, examining the response of the Earth’s surface to this change has just begun. Climate change affects all landscapes, influencing hydrology, flooding, water quality, nutrient loads, ecosystems, soil erosion, and landslide frequency. Retreating glaciers, for example, let loose large chunks of ice and freshwater while freshly eroded rock becomes exposed to weathering in the wake of the glaciers’ retreating termini ( Figure 1.5 ). An understanding of glacial mechanics, especially the basal sliding process, is important in predicting rates of glacial retreat and sea-level rise and is considered a top challenge for reducing uncertainty in climate projection and impact assessments.
Another important process in cold regions is thawing of the active layer of permafrost, which can produce nutrient and sediment pulses to coastal zones and increase the flux of carbon to the atmosphere. Permafrost underlies about 25 percent of global land area and is undergoing marked changes associated with recent global warming. Seasonally, the top of permafrost—the active layer—thaws and melts, and this seasonal thaw is increasing. The ecological impacts of warming and increased seasonal thawing of the active layer are complex, but potentially quite profound. Substantial amounts of carbon are stored in boreal soils, with possibly 50 percent or more of soil organic matter stored in high-latitude periglacial environments. Hydrologic conditions and biota play a role in whether thawed organic matter oxidizes or is reduced to methane. Although warming Arctic soils will likely be a source of carbon to the atmosphere, the details of carbon release from these soils are not yet clearly understood.
As with the need to address issues of glacial mechanics, understanding these fluxes in permafrost zones is critical to climate models that are sensitive to the changing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Coastal margins in the Arctic illustrate relatively short-term feedbacks between biota and deltaic channel-wetland systems that are linked to global warming and its effects on thawing of the active layer of permafrost. A vast delta (30,000 km 2 ) that formed at the mouth of the Lena River with sediment shed from northern Siberia currently contains extensive tundra wetlands that provide habitat for migratory birds ( Figure 1.6 ). Biota and organic matter in the wetlands stabilize distributary channels and islands. Frozen for more than half of each year, these wetlands store large amounts of carbon that are released during thawing of the active layer in permafrost, which has been hastened by the warming climate. Organic-rich soils collapse as they warm and melt, leading to channel shifting, pulses of nutrient and sediment loading to the Laptev Sea, and the release of carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere. Such pulses can affect detrital food chains and benthic productivity along the continental shelf, which in turn affect the rate of erosion of coastal margins. The wetlands and frozen sediments of the
FIGURE 1.5 Global warming, retreating glaciers, and changing landscapes. The Columbia Glacier, flowing into Prince William Sound, Alaska, presently is undergoing rapid retreat that is likely to last another few decades. The glacier produces prodigious quantities of icebergs, which debouch into the sound near the shipping lane from the Valdez terminus of the Alyeska pipeline. The retreat is accompanied by thinning of the ice, revealing up to 400 meters of freshly exposed bedrock that bounds the present glacier. SOURCE: Photo courtesy of Robert S. Anderson.
Lena Delta system reveal the interconnectedness among climate change, biota, soils, and landscapes at the centennial to millennial scale and the critical linkages between human activities and Earth surface processes.
1.3 NEW TECHNOLOGIES: MONITORING EARTH SURFACE PROCESSES AT HIGH RESOLUTION IN SPACE AND TIME
The evolution and increasing availability of new measurement technologies has enabled many of the advances in Earth surface processes that are discussed throughout this report.
FIGURE 1.6 Interactions among climate change, biota, and landscapes. The vast Lena River delta, the largest delta in the Arctic region, formed as sediment from the Lena River was deposited where it flows into the Laptev Sea. Tundra wetlands in this delta store large amounts of carbon that potentially could be released by modern global warming. Attributed largely to human activity, warming accelerates permafrost thawing and the erosion of organic-rich delta sediments. Envisat image acquired on June 15, 2006; width of image ~350 kilometers. SOURCE: European Space Agency.
Technological advances in remote sensing, geochemistry, geochronology, and computing have fostered great progress in the study of Earth’s surface ( Appendix C ). For example, recent advances in the areas of digital topography and geochronology enable scientists not just to conduct research faster or more accurately, but to make observations and interpretations that were not possible previously.
Throughout history, the creation of maps has been a means of recording observations that enable us to find and denote paths and patterns and to generate hypotheses about the controls on the spatial relationship of features. Topographic maps, depicting land elevation and displaying landforms, have been crucial to scientific inquiry about the Earth and have been central to land development. In the 1980s, a profound step was taken when line drawings of elevations on topographic maps were digitized and the landscape could be represented via digital elevation models on computers. This innovation launched thousands of scientific studies exploiting this new capability and ultimately gave rise to many new practical applications. In the last decade, technological advances have enabled the first airborne and satellite-mounted surveys of topography using radar (interferometric synthetic aperture radar, InSAR) and laser (light detection and ranging, or lidar) technology, giving unprecedented spatial resolution over large areas. This development has led to a second wave of digital topographic studies that are transforming not just research in Earth surface processes, but also the fields of agriculture, ecology, engineering, and planning. With regard to Earth surface processes, digital elevation data enable us to examine, for the first time, topographic features over broad areas using computer-automated techniques. This ability is leading to new insights and tools that link landscapes to hydrology, geochemistry, tectonics, and climate. Although many digital elevation data are coarse in scale for studying the features, for example, of mountain belts with long, high hillslopes, the data have been truly revolutionary. The advances in the past decade are akin to those of the 1960s in the fields of seismology and geophysics, when accessibility to global seismic and paleomagnetic data and new tools to process such signals spurred the plate tectonics revolution and greater understanding of Earth’s subsurface processes.
One of the most recent transformative phases in the measurement and characterization of landscape topography has been the ongoing development of laser surveying, both from the ground and from airborne instruments. This method is referred to as lidar, or airborne laser swath mapping (ALSM) in the case of aerial surveys. High-resolution swath bathymetry uses sonar for the same types of measurements in marine environments. With lidar, a laser pulse is sent from the instrument, and the time for its return from a reflected surface is detected and used to calculate distance. Current technology permits typical accuracies to about 5 to 10 centimeters vertically and 20 to 30 centimeters horizontally, with data returns every few decimeters. From these returns a point cloud of elevation data is created; various analytical methods are then used to distinguish vegetation from ground ( Figure 1.7 ).
For the first time, we now can obtain surveys over broad areas that document topography at the resolution at which transport, erosion, and deposition processes operate. Lidar data also capture important quantitative attributes of vegetation that can be used in studies
FIGURE 1.7 Documenting topography at the resolution of transport and erosion processes. Comparison of Google Earth image ( bottom , digital air photo) with two lidar-derived images for an area near Flathead Lake, Montana: “bare Earth” topography with vegetation removed ( top left ) and vegetation color-coded by height above bare Earth ( top right ). Area in red box on the digital air photo is the area covered by the upper lidar images. Image width of the digital air photo is ~3 kilometers. SOURCE: National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM), Bottom Image courtesy of Google Earth.
of ecohydrology and ecogeomorphology. Landslide scars, channel banks, river terraces, floodplain features, fault traces, and other landforms can be detected, quantified, and used to advance theoretical and practical understanding. Repeat scans allow change detection as never previously possible. These techniques also permit improved understanding of the human impact on types and rates of geomorphic processes.
To quantify rates of Earth surface processes and ages of landforms, Earth scientists have developed in the past 20 years a wide range of tools that exploit the time-dependent exposure of materials to cosmic rays, heat, and light. The greatest breakthrough came when measurement techniques advanced to the stage that trace concentrations of atoms produced by cosmic rays could be isolated and measured accurately ( Box 1.2 ). Questions posed by early twentieth century Earth scientists about ages of landscapes and their evolutionary sequences, and the underlying mechanisms of erosion and deposition, can now be addressed quantitatively. These rate measurements coupled with new thermochronometers (see Box 2.4 ) have revealed suspected but previously unmeasurable linkages between erosion and tectonics. Undoubtedly much more will be discovered as these new dating technologies are used to measure the rates of evolution of Earth’s surface.
1.4 STUDY CONSIDERATIONS AND REPORT STRUCTURE
Interdisciplinary research 2 in Earth surface processes comprises the detailed investigation of contemporary processes that generate and degrade landscapes and change the properties of rocks and soil; the definition of how these processes have functioned over the long periods of time required for the evolution of surface conditions (composition, function, and form); the deep connections among surface processes, climate, tectonics, life, and human activity; and ultimately the prediction of future landscapes and the fluid, solid, and solute fluxes across them. Evidence of the environmental history of landscape development is stored in the geologic and geochemical records of sediments, water, and soils. Building from datasets that extend across space and time and using a growing variety of powerful tools and techniques, scientists are able to measure landforms, probe sediments and
water, quantify process rates, and model the changing face of Earth. As interdisciplinary approaches increase the power of landscape research, a complex picture is beginning to emerge of landscape functioning, evolution, and interactions with life and human activity. Research in this area is integrative because it involves linkages to many related fields and because the core of the research lies at discovering the interactions and feedbacks involving physical, chemical, biological, and human processes.
The field of Earth surface processes overlaps with studies of the Critical Zone as defined by the NRC report to NSF on Basic Research Opportunities in Earth Science (BROES) (NRC, 2001a). The BROES report first developed the concept of the “Critical Zone” as the “heterogeneous, near-surface environment in which complex interactions involving rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms regulate the natural habitat and determine the availability of life-sustaining resources.” In addition to these surface interactions, the investigation of Earth surface processes as developed in this report involves features and transfer processes that place greater emphasis on geological history and on interactions and feedbacks both with humans and with deep-Earth processes (e.g., tectonics) than those initially conceived in the definition of Critical Zone studies. Notably, the NSF-supported Critical Zone Observatories, which have grown out of this interest in the Critical Zone, are an integral part of the effort to advance the understanding of processes operating at the surface of the Earth (see Box 2.5 ). In this report, the committee did not develop static definitions of Critical Zone science or Earth surface processes, but considered them part of the same urgent effort to understand processes operating at or near Earth’s surface.
To identify most effectively the greatest challenges and most promising opportunities in Earth surface processes, the committee sought input in its public meetings from panelists whose expertise augmented that of committee members (Appendixes A and B ) and remained abreast of the meeting activities of a parallel, but separate, NRC study Strategic Directions in the Geographical Sciences . The committee also sought input from a broad section of the international scientific community relevant to Earth surface processes through an online questionnaire (see Appendix B ). Responses to the questionnaire emphasized a number of recurring themes including (1) the interconnectedness of diverse processes acting on Earth’s surface; (2) the importance of incorporating human dynamics in research on Earth surface processes; (3) the value of new technologies to advance understanding of Earth surface processes (see also Appendix C ); and (4) the scientific and practical challenges that face the community in its effort to advance this field. Although this report focuses on the terrestrial surface, the committee emphasizes that research on the submarine surface and on marine processes is as active and exciting as terrestrial research. However, without any marine scientists on the committee, we did not have the resources to do justice to topics addressed by this important, allied community.
Numerous boxes and figures throughout the report are designed to highlight specific concepts, tools, and examples related to Earth surface processes research that otherwise are
mentioned only briefly in the text. Neither these boxes nor the examples in the body of the text can represent the entire range of research covered by the field, but they are intended to draw attention to contributions from various disciplines to further research on Earth surface processes. Similarly, we do not cite many specific research publications from among the vast number in this area of research except to provide proper attribution for a point of fact, a figure, a direct quotation, or an explicit concept. The committee also notes that the study charge is focused on research and, for this reason, has deliberately not included education and human resource issues in its discussion. Although clearly of importance to all areas of science and engineering, capturing education and workforce topics in adequate detail was beyond the study scope. Appendix D provides some background to the growth in this field at universities and in the international professional community.
In addition to the collaborative and integrative approaches emphasized in this report, the committee recognizes that the emerging science of Earth surface processes often has relied on fairly simple, descriptive approaches. Empirical methods have underlain much of the theory development for understanding landscapes, and observations and data collection will remain important components of studies of the Earth’s surface. Nevertheless, significant advances will require developing quantitative predictive capability for how landscapes form, evolve, and respond to change. Such capability is especially important as Earth surface processes are increasingly altered by human activity and climate change. For the foreseeable future and for most landscape processes, predictive models will of necessity continue to be partially empirical, even as improvements in understanding underlying processes gradually are achieved. A useful analogy here is one of weather forecasting, which combines sophisticated numerical solutions of the governing equations of atmospheric dynamics with empirical relations for incompletely understood processes (e.g., cloud formation) to make forecasts that are quantitative and, at the same time, stochastic. Although the underlying equations for landscape evolution are not known at present and may be quite diverse, the general approach to landscape prediction is likely to be similar.
1.5 CLOSING REMARKS
Intended for use by NSF, decision makers, and research communities in academia, the private sector, and federal agencies, this report identifies high-priority areas for research in Earth surface processes. Many of the research areas address critical societal needs and issues. The report also suggests means to coordinate and support the necessary research. Basic research in Earth surface processes is one part of the research portfolio encompassed by the Section of Surface Earth Processes at NSF. Many of the exciting research activities and intellectual advances in the study of Earth surface processes, however, have gone beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries of Earth science, reaching into research domains that fall within other areas at NSF, such as climate, ecosystem sciences, tectonic processes, and
Earth’s interior. The field of Earth surface processes lies at the intersection and integration of diverse natural science disciplines—Earth, life, atmospheric, and ocean sciences—that address explicitly the function, composition, form, and evolution of Earth’s surface and near-surface environment. Increasingly, as the human impact strengthens, the field of Earth surface processes requires integration with the social and behavioral sciences as well.
Earth’s surface is the only habitat available to the human race. Understanding the processes by which that habitat has been created and continually altered is important to determine the causes of environmental degradation, to restore what is degraded, and to guide policy decisions toward a sustainable Earth surface. The agencies and individuals responsible for natural resources and public welfare widely acknowledge that environmental change occurs on a scale and with an intensity that is important for society’s long-term plans and investments. This acknowledgment now puts a responsibility on the shoulders of natural scientists as well as professionals in economics, social science, engineering, and other fields to interpret the record of ongoing environmental change and to anticipate and, in some cases, make quantitative predictions of future events or conditions. Earth-surface scientists who study such records have distinctive insights, methods, and skills to understand the form, composition, properties, function, and evolution of Earth’s surface and to contribute to resolving modern environmental challenges.
We have the technological ability to monitor closely human impacts on the environment. The need to observe, measure, and model human-landscape interactions in an integrated, predictive fashion is clear. To develop this capability, fundamental research is needed to understand and quantify the impact and feedback relationships between human activity and Earth surface processes. In many cases, the socioeconomic will and capacity exist to attempt to alter the impacts and responses initiated in human-influenced landscape systems. With new scientific questions about various components of the Earth system, opportunities and tools for research, rapid growth of the human population, and unprecedented changes in biota, land cover, process rates, and global climate, an appraisal of the study of Earth surface processes is both timely and crucial.
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During geologic spans of time, Earth's shifting tectonic plates, atmosphere, freezing water, thawing ice, flowing rivers, and evolving life have shaped Earth's surface features. The resulting hills, mountains, valleys, and plains shelter ecosystems that interact with all life and provide a record of Earth surface processes that extend back through Earth's history. Despite rapidly growing scientific knowledge of Earth surface interactions, and the increasing availability of new monitoring technologies, there is still little understanding of how these processes generate and degrade landscapes.
Landscapes on the Edge identifies nine grand challenges in this emerging field of study and proposes four high-priority research initiatives. The book poses questions about how our planet's past can tell us about its future, how landscapes record climate and tectonics, and how Earth surface science can contribute to developing a sustainable living surface for future generations.
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- The Earth's Exterior
- Geologic Time
- The Earth Today
- History of Physical Geology
- The Earth's Origin
- The Earth's Structure
- Mineral Properties
- The Rock Cycle
- Chemical Composition
- Minerals and Rocks
- Extrusive Rock Types
- Rock Textures
- Intrusive Rock Types
- Intrusive Structures
- How Different Magmas Form
- Igneous Rocks and Plate Tectonics
- Magmatic Differentiation
- Volcanoes and Lavas
- Clastic Sedimentary Rocks
- Chemical Sedimentary Rocks
- Organic Sedimentary Rocks
- Sedimentary Features
- Sedimentary Environments
- How Sedimentary Rocks Form
- Factors Controlling Metamorphism
- Types of Metamorphism
- Metamorphic Rock Types
- Hydrothermal Rocks
- Metamorphism and Plate Tectonics
- Metamorphism Defined
- Interpreting Structures
- Mapping in the Field
- Geologic Structures Defined
- Tectonic Forces
- Processes of Mechanical Weathering
- Processes of Chemical Weathering
- Prevention of Mass Wasting
- Introduction to Mass Wasting
- Mass‐Wasting Controls
- Types of Mass Wasting
- Stream Dynamics
- Stream Erosion
- Sediment Load
- Stream Deposition
- Stream Valleys
- Regional Erosion
- Types of Water Flow
- How Glaciers Develop
- Glacier Movement
- Glacial Erosion
- Glacial Landforms
- Glacial Deposits
- Glaciers in the Past
- Introduction to Glaciation
- Types of Glaciers
- North American Glaciation
- The Water Table
- Streams and Springs
- Effects of Groundwater Flow
- Groundwater Pollution
- Geothermal Energy
- Groundwater and Infiltration
- Shoreline Features
- Desert Features
- The Effects of Wind
- Distribution and Causes of Deserts
- Monitoring Earthquakes
- Effects of Earthquakes
- Earthquakes and Plate Tectonics
- Control and Prediction
- How Earthquakes Form
- Seismic Waves
- Isostatic Equilibrium
- Magnetic Fields
- Geophysics Defined
- Seismic Waves: Methods of Detection
- The Structure of the Earth
- Geothermal Gradients
- Continental Margins
- Ocean Floor Sediments
- Active Continental Margins
- Passive Continental Margins
- Investigative Technologies
- Midoceanic Ridges
- Oceanic Crust
- How Plates Move
- Types of Plate Boundaries
- Why Plates Move
- Mantle Plumes
- Early Evidence for Plate Tectonics
- Paleomagnetic Evidence
- Sea Floor Evidence
- Features of Mountain Belts
- Types of Mountains
- How Mountains Form
- How Continents Form
- Introduction to Mountains
- Geologic Correlations
- Absolute Age
- A Summary of Earth's History
- Geologic Time Defined
- Relative Time
- Metallic Deposits
- Energy Resources
- Nonmetallic Resources
- Recycling and Conservation
- Resources and Reserves
- Earth's Moon
- Jupiter and Saturn
- Introduction to the Solar System
Various external forces affect the earth's surface, such as different climates and the amount of rainfall. Freezing, thawing, and running water all contribute to weathering and erosion , processes that break rock down into tiny particles. These particles are then transported by water, ice, or wind as sediment. The processes of erosion reduce mountains to hills, create canyons, valleys, and soils, and deposit huge amounts of sediments that either become eroded again or are preserved and lithified into sedimentary rock.
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The Forces that Change the Face of Earth
Despite our tendency to consider Earth as static, it is actually a dynamic and ever-changing planet. Wind, water, and ice erode and shape the land. Volcanic activity and earthquakes alter the landscape in a dramatic and often violent manner. And on a much longer timescale, the movement of earth’s plates slowly reconfigures oceans and continents.
Each one of these processes plays a role in the Arctic and Antarctica. We’ll discuss each in general and specifically in the polar regions.
Wind, water, and ice are the three agents of erosion, or the carrying away of rock, sediment, and soil. Erosion is distinguished from weathering — the physical or chemical breakdown of the minerals in rock. However, weathering and erosion can happen simultaneously. Erosion is a natural process, though it is often increased by humans’ use of the land. Deforestation, overgrazing, construction, and road building often expose soil and sediments and lead to increased erosion. Excessive erosion leads to loss of soil, ecosystem damage, and a buildup of sediments in water sources. Building terraces and planting trees can help reduce erosion.
In the Arctic and sub-Arctic, glacial erosion has shaped much of the landscape. Glaciers primarily erode through plucking and abrasion. Plucking occurs as a glacier flows over bedrock, softening and lifting blocks of rock that are brought into the ice. The intense pressure at the base of the glacier causes some of the ice to melt, forming a thin layer of subglacial water. This water flows into cracks in the bedrock. As the water refreezes, the ice acts as a lever loosening the rock by lifting it. The fractured rock is thus incorporated into the glacier’s load and is carried along as the glacier slowly moves.
Above-freezing temperatures created a meltwater stream on the Scott Glacier, Antarctica. Photo courtesy of BlueCanoe (Flickr).
Glacial erosion is evident through the U-shaped valleys and fjords that are located throughout the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Glacial moraines are formed as a glacier recedes, leaving behind large piles of rock, gravel, and even boulders. Moraines may form at the foot (terminal moraine) or sides (lateral moraine) of the glacier or in the middle of two merging glaciers (medial moraine).
A U shaped Valley in Alaska.
Glacial moraine in Kyrgyzstan.
A fjord in Norway.
Photos courtesy (T to B) of Skylar Primm, Geir Halvorsen, and Martin Talbot (Flickr).
Coastal erosion has become a major issue in recent years in the Arctic, with Alaska’s North Slope losing as much as 30 meters (100 feet) per year! Climate change is thought to be the underlying cause. As the climate warms and sea ice melts, more of the sun’s energy is absorbed by ocean water. As this heat is transferred to the land, the permafrost (frozen soil) thaws, making the coast vulnerable to erosion from wave action and storms (which are more frequent due to warmer temperatures and open water). This video from the University of Colorado Boulder and the U.S. Geological Survey shows time-lapse images during one month of crumbling.
In Antarctica, katabatic winds play a large role in erosion. This type of wind occurs when high-density cold air builds up at high elevations (on the ice sheets, for example) and moves downhill under the force of gravity.
Image courtesy of Hannes Grobe, Alfred Wegner Institute for Polar and Marine Research (Wikimedia).
Katabatic winds in Antarctica and Greenland are intensely cold and fast, often reaching hurricane speed. You can hear these fierce winds in this YouTube video
The winds in Antarctica carry small grains of sand that scour and erode the exposed rocks, resulting in unusual shapes and formations. These oddly shaped, eroded rocks are called ventrifacts.
Ventrifacts are wind-eroded rocks found in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. They range from finger-sized to larger than houses. Photo courtesy of Kristan Hutchison, National Science Foundation.
The theory of plate tectonics describes the motions of earth’s lithosphere, or outermost layer of hard, solid rock, over geologic time. Plate tectonics provides scientists with a great deal of information about the polar region’s past.
Tectonic plates. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.
Earth’s lithosphere is broken into seven major and many minor tectonic plates. These plates move in relation to each other, slowly changing the location of earth’s continents and oceans.
Geological evidence from Antarctica supports the theory that North America and Antarctica were connected approximately one billion years ago in the global supercontinent Rodinia. The continents eventually broke apart, merging again approximately 200 million years ago in the supercontinent Pangaea. Fossil evidence from this time period confirms that Antarctica was connected to Australia and South America and much warmer than it is today.
The movement of the tectonic plates also means that they are associated with much of the world’s volcanic and seismic activity.
A volcano is simply an area where magma, or molten rock, from the earth’s mantle reaches the earth’s surface, becoming lava. Most volcanoes occur at plate boundaries, where two plates are moving away (diverging) or together (converging). A few volcanoes like the Hawaiian Islands form from a hot spot , or a weak spot in earth’s crust, where magma forces its way to the surface.
Volcanic eruptions may be explosive (violent) or effusive (passive), depending on the lava chemistry (amounts of silica and dissolved gases). Silica is a mineral found in nature as sand or quartz. High levels of silica mean very viscous (thick) lava, and low levels mean more fluid lava. Dissolved gases build up inside the volcano, much like a can of soda or other carbonated beverage. The higher the level of gas, the more pressure that builds – and the more violent an explosion. The combination of silica and dissolved gas levels determines the type of eruption and shape of the volcano.
Volcanoes are classified into four types, based on their lava chemistry and shape.
Images courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Largely unexplored, the Gakkel Ridge runs underneath the Arctic Ocean. Scientists have discovered volcanic craters and evidence of surprisingly violent eruptions in the recent past.
Map courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Antarctica, too, is home to volcanic activity. Ross Island, located in the Ross Sea, is composed of three extinct volcanoes (Mt. Bird, Mt. Terror, and Hut Point) and Mt. Erebus, Antarctica’s most active volcano.
The summit of Mt. Erebus from the front seat of a helicopter. Photo courtesy of Mt. Erebus Volcano Observatory.
Mt. Erebus is home to a permanent lava lake, or a large amount of molten lava contained in a crater. Only three volcanoes in the world have permanent lava lakes, making Mt. Erebus an important research site for scientists looking to better understand the internal plumbing system of volcanoes. However, its location permits only a six-week field season and its high altitude (3794 meters) is physically challenging.
Mt. Erebus lava lake in 1983. Photo courtesy of Mt. Erebus Volcano Observatory.
Mt. Erebus is also notable for its persistent low-level eruptive activity (with almost daily eruptions). While the volcano has had some history of violent activity, most eruptions are passive lava flows similar to the volcanoes of Hawaii.
Seismic activity (earthquakes) is most often associated with tectonic plate boundaries. As plates slowly move, their jagged edges stick and suddenly slip, causing an earthquake.
The Gakkel Ridge underneath the Arctic Ocean experiences small earthquakes that accompany the volcanic activity found in the area. Antarctica, which lies in the center of a tectonic plate, does not experience many earthquakes. However, seismic activity is associated with eruptions of Mt. Erebus.
Use these resources to learn more about erosion, volcanoes, earthquakes, and plate tectonics and how these agents of change affect the polar regions.
All About Glaciers Learn how glaciers form, move, and shape the landscape.
Katabatic Winds Basic information about the winds of Antarctica.
National Geographic: Forces of Nature Explore volcanoes and earthquakes in this web site. Don’t miss the interactive activities that allow you to virtually erupt volcanoes and trigger earthquakes!
Polar Discovery: Arctic Seafloor Expedition During summer 2007, a team of scientists used autonomous underwater vehicles to explore the Gakkel Ridge. The Polar Discovery web site documents the expedition and provides background information, images, and video.
Mt. Erebus Volcano Observatory Provides general information about Mt. Erebus, ongoing research, video, and a photo gallery.
National Science Education Standards : Science Content Standards
The entire National Science Education Standards document can be read online or downloaded for free from the National Academies Press web site. The following excerpt was taken from Chapter 6 .
A study of changes in the Earth’s surface aligns with the Earth and Space Science, and the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives content standards of the National Science Education Standards :
K-4 Earth and Space Science: Changes in the Earth and Sky
- The surface of the earth changes. Some changes are due to slow processes, such as erosion and weathering, and some changes are due to rapid processes, such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.
5-8 Earth and Space Science: Structure of the Earth System
- The solid earth is layered with a lithosphere; hot, convecting mantle; and dense, metallic core.
- Lithospheric plates on the scales of continents and oceans constantly move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle. Major geological events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building, result from these plate motions.
- Land forms are the result of a combination of constructive and destructive forces. Constructive forces include crustal deformation, volcanic eruption, and deposition of sediment, while destructive forces include weathering and erosion.
5-8 Earth and Space Science: Earth’s History
- The earth processes we see today, including erosion, movement of lithospheric plates, and changes in atmospheric composition, are similar to those that occurred in the past.
- Fossils provide important evidence of how life and environmental conditions have changed.
K-4 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives: Changes in Environments
- Changes in environments can be natural or influenced by humans. Some changes are good, some are bad, and some are neither good nor bad.
- Some environmental changes occur slowly, and others occur rapidly.
5-8 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives: Natural Hazards
- Internal and external processes of the earth system cause natural hazards, events that change or destroy human and wildlife habitats, damage property, and harm or kill humans.
This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle , Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.
Copyright December 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license
9 thoughts on “ The Forces that Change the Face of Earth ”
Nicee our teacher made us look at this.
nice thanxs for this
im very grateful for this website
Helping my daughter out with her Science homework. Still learning abit myself. Is there a glacier thats getting bigger in Norway,or somewhere in the North Atlantic/Arctic region, on a yearly basis? Seems I read about this on some website recently. Great article. I can’t wait to drill her on it!!!!!!!
thanks for making this website it helped me A LOT
As an earth scientist I can endorse the fact that all of the content of this website is of a high standard and factually correct although it does not cover the entire field of physical geology. As far as the processes changing the face of the earth go there is another force that can effect a drastic change to the surface of the earth i.e. impact by a large meteorite leaving a large crater upon impact and pushing into the atmosphere an enormous dust cloud.
“The surface of the earth changes. Some changes are due to slow processes, such as erosion and weathering, and some changes are due to rapid processes, such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes” and collisions by large meteorites with the earth. (incidents of meteoritic impact frequented the earth in its distant past but since humans started dwelling the earth no large body from outer space has so far crossed the orbit of the earth – (see my website) 0
This information is incredible. I’ve definitely used this to help my daughter out with her science homework and even picked up a few facts about the Earth myself.
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Earth System: Matter and Energy Cycles
Diagram showing parts of the Earth system. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center .
Explore the energy and matter cycles found within the Earth System.
Energy from the Sun is the driver of many Earth System processes. This energy flows into the Atmosphere and heats this system up It also heats up the Hydrosphere and the land surface of the Geosphere, and fuels many processes in the Biosphere. Differences in the amount of energy absorbed in different places set the Atmosphere and oceans in motion and help determine their overall temperature and chemical structure. These motions, such as wind patterns and ocean currents redistribute energy throughout the environment. Eventually, the energy that began as Sunshine (short-wave radiation) leaves the planet as Earthshine (light reflected by the Atmosphere and surface back into space) and infrared radiation (heat, also called longwave radiation) emitted by all parts of the planet which reaches the top of the Atmosphere. This flow of energy from the Sun, through the environment, and back into space is a major connection in the Earth system; it defines Earth’s climate.
There are many ways in which the energy, water, and biogeochemical cycles (cycles of the elements that involve life, chemicals, and the solid Earth) interact and influence the Earth System.
Water Cycle (Hydrologic Cycle)
Water is practically everywhere on Earth. Viewed from space, one of the most striking features of our home planet is the water, in both liquid and frozen forms, that covers approximately 75% of the Earth’s surface. Geologic evidence suggests that large amounts of water have likely flowed on Earth for the past 3.8 billion years—most of its existence. Believed to have initially arrived on Earth’s surface through the emissions of ancient volcanoes, water is a vital substance that sets the Earth apart from the rest of the planets in our solar system. In particular, water appears to be a necessary ingredient for the development and nourishment of life.
Water is the only common substance that can exist naturally as a gas, liquid, or solid at the relatively small range of temperatures and pressures found on the Earth’s surface. Sometimes, all three states are even present in the same time and place, such as this wintertime eruption of a geyser in Yellowstone National Park.
In all, the Earth’s water content is about 1.39 billion cubic kilometers (331 million cubic miles), with the bulk of it, about 96.5%, being in the global oceans. As for the rest, approximately 1.7% is stored in the polar icecaps, glaciers, and permanent snow, and another 1.7% is stored in groundwater, lakes, rivers, streams, and soil. Only a thousandth of 1% of the water on Earth exists as water vapor in the atmosphere.
For human needs, the amount of freshwater on Earth—for drinking and agriculture—is particularly important. Freshwater exists in lakes, rivers, groundwater, and frozen as snow and ice. Estimates of groundwater are particularly difficult to make, and they vary widely. (The value in the above table is near the high end of the range.) Groundwater may constitute anywhere from approximately 22 to 30% of fresh water, with ice (including ice caps, glaciers, permanent snow, ground ice, and permafrost) accounting for most of the remaining 78 to 70%.
Groundwater is found in two broadly defined layers of the soil, the “zone of aeration,” where gaps in the soil are filled with both air and water, and, further down, the “zone of saturation,” where the gaps are completely filled with water. The boundary between these two zones is known as the water table, which rises or falls as the amount of groundwater changes.
The amount of water in the atmosphere at any moment in time is only 12,900 cubic kilometers, a minute fraction of Earth’s total water supply: if it were to completely rain out, atmospheric moisture would cover the Earth’s surface to a depth of only 2.5 centimeters. However, far more water—in fact, some 495,000 cubic kilometers of it—are cycled through the Atmosphere every year. It is as if the entire amount of water in the air were removed and replenished nearly 40 times a year.
Despite its small amount, this water vapor has a huge influence on the planet. Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas, and it is a major driver of the Earth’s weather and climate as it travels around the globe, transporting latent heat with it. Latent heat is heat obtained by water molecules as they transition from liquid or solid to vapor; the heat is released when the molecules condense from vapor back to liquid or solid form, creating cloud droplets and various forms of precipitation.
Water vapor—and with it energy—is carried around the globe by weather systems. This satellite image shows the distribution of water vapor over Africa and the Atlantic Ocean. White areas have high concentrations of water vapor, while dark regions are relatively dry. The brightest white areas are towering thunderclouds.
The water, or hydrologic, cycle describes the journey of water as water molecules make their way from the Earth’s surface to the Atmosphere and back again, in some cases to below the surface. This gigantic system, powered by energy from the Sun, is a continuous exchange of moisture between the oceans, the atmosphere, and the land.
Water molecules can take an immense variety of routes and branching trails that lead them again and again through the three phases of ice, liquid water, and water vapor. For instance, the water molecules that once fell 100 years ago as rain on your great- grandparents’ farmhouse in Iowa might now be falling as snow on your driveway in California. Water at the bottom of Lake Superior may eventually rise into the atmosphere and fall as rain in Massachusetts. Runoff from the Massachusetts rain may drain into the Atlantic Ocean and circulate northeastward toward Iceland, destined to become part of a floe of sea ice, or, after evaporation to the atmosphere and precipitation as snow, part of a glacier.
Water continually evaporates, condenses, and precipitates, and on a global basis, evaporation approximately equals precipitation. Because of this equality, the total amount of water vapor in the atmosphere remains approximately the same over time. However, over the continents, precipitation routinely exceeds evaporation, and conversely, over the oceans, evaporation exceeds precipitation.
In the case of the oceans, the continual excess of evaporation versus precipitation would eventually leave the oceans empty if they were not being replenished by additional means. Not only are they being replenished, largely through runoff from the land areas, but over the past 100 years, they have been over-replenished: sea level around the globe has risen approximately 17 centimeters over the course of the twentieth century. The main source of this excess runoff from land contributing to sea level rise is the melting of land ice, particularly in Greenland and Antarctica.
Sea level has risen both because of warming of the oceans, causing water to expand and increase in volume, and because more water has been entering the ocean than the amount leaving it through evaporation or other means. A primary cause for increased mass of water entering the ocean is the calving or melting of land ice (ice sheets and glaciers). Sea ice is already in the ocean, so increases or decreases in the annual amount of sea ice do not significantly affect sea level.
Throughout the hydrologic cycle, there are many paths that a water molecule might follow. Water at the bottom of Lake Superior may eventually rise into the atmosphere and fall as rain in Massachusetts. Runoff from the Massachusetts rain may drain into the Atlantic Ocean and circulate northeastward toward Iceland, destined to become part of a floe of sea ice, or, after evaporation to the atmosphere and precipitation as snow, part of a glacier.
Water molecules can take an immense variety of routes and branching trails that lead them again and again through the three phases of ice, liquid water, and water vapor. For instance, the water molecules that once fell 100 years ago as rain on your great- grandparents’ farmhouse in Iowa might now be falling as snow on your driveway in California.
Evaporation, Transpiration, Sublimation
Together, evaporation, transpiration, and sublimation, plus volcanic emissions, account for almost all the water vapor in the Atmosphere that isn’t inserted through human activities. Studies show that evaporation—the process by which water changes from a liquid to a gas—from oceans, seas, and other bodies of water (lakes, rivers, streams) provides nearly 90% of the moisture in our atmosphere. Most of the remaining 10% found in the atmosphere is released by plants through transpiration where plants take in water through their roots, then release it through small pores on the underside of their leaves. For example, a cornfield 1 acre in size can transpire as much as 4,000 gallons of water every day. In addition, a very small portion of water vapor enters the Atmosphere through sublimation, the process by which water changes directly from a solid (ice or snow) to a gas. The gradual shrinking of snow banks in cases when the temperature remains below freezing results from sublimation.
Condensation & Precipitation
After the water enters the lower atmosphere, rising air currents carry it upward, often high into the atmosphere, where the rising air cools. In cooled air, water vapor is more likely to condense from a gas to a liquid to form cloud droplets. Cloud droplets can grow and produce precipitation (including rain, snow, sleet, freezing rain, and hail), which is the primary mechanism for transporting water from the atmosphere back to the Earth’s surface.
When precipitation falls over the land surface, it follows various routes in its subsequent paths. Some of it evaporates, returning to the atmosphere; some seeps into the ground as soil moisture or groundwater; and some runs off into rivers and streams. Almost all of the water eventually flows into the oceans or other bodies of water, where the cycle continues. At different stages of the cycle, some of the water is intercepted by humans or other life forms for drinking, washing, irrigating, and a large variety of other uses.
Sea Level Rise
Sea level has been rising over the past century, partly due to thermal expansion of the ocean as it warms, causing water to expand and increase in volume, and partly due to the melting of glaciers and ice caps because more water has been entering the ocean than the amount leaving it through evaporation or other means. (Graph ©2010 Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization.)
Snow and Ice Melt
A primary cause for increased mass of water entering the ocean is the calving or melting of land ice (ice sheets and glaciers). Sea ice is already in the ocean, so increases or decreases in the annual amount of sea ice do not significantly affect sea level.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
The Changing Nitrogen Cycle
Credit: UCAR Center for Science Education
Plants and animals could not live without the essential element, nitrogen. It makes up many biological structures and processes such as cells, amino acids, proteins, and even DNA. It is also necessary for plants to produce chlorophyll, which they use in photosynthesis to make their food and energy.
Nitrogen forms simple chemicals called amino acids, the essential building blocks of all proteins, enzymes, and especially DNA. It helps plants use carbohydrates to gain energy, like certain foods we eat help us to gain energy. Nitrogen controls how plants take their form and how they function inside, and nitrogen helps plants make the protein that helps them grow strong and healthy. Humans and animals benefit from eating vegetables and plants that are rich in nitrogen because proteins are passed on to humans and animals when they eat vegetables and plants.
We might commonly think of Earth as having an oxygen-dominated atmosphere, but in reality, the molecule makes up a little less than 20% our air. Most of what surrounds us is nitrogen, at 78 percent in the form of diatomic nitrogen gas, the gas itself is very unreactive. plants and animals simply cannot absorb the gas directly from the atmosphere. Nitrogen, in the forms of Nitrates (NO3), Nitrites (NO2), and Ammonium (NH4), is a nutrient needed for plant growth. Plants take up nitrogen in forms of nitrate ( NO3-) and ammonium ( NH4+ ). Most plants thrive on equal amounts of these ions but nitrates are more quickly available to plants because they move through the soil solution, whereas ammonium ions become fixed or held on to clay particles, called colloids, because of their positive charge.
How Plants Take Up Nitrogen
The nitrogen cycle involves certain processes that change nitrogen into different forms. Unfortunately, these forms of nitrogen are not always used by plants because they either get onto clay particles in soil, they leach into the groundwater because they cannot be absorbed by the soil, or they change into nitrogen gases that escape into Earth's atmosphere. So how does nitrogen change states from N2 in the air to these other states so that they are accessible by the Biosphere? Luckily there are specific kinds of microorganisms living in the soil that can convert gaseous forms of nitrogen into inorganic nitrogen that plants can use.
Specialized bacteria in soil (and certain types of algae in water) can fix nitrogen. These bacteria that cling to roots within the soil convert (or "fix") this inorganic nitrogen into organic forms (ammonia and nitrate ions) that plants can absorb. This process of converting nitrogen to a “biologically available” form - in other words, converting nitrogen gas to a form that plants can use - is referred to as nitrogen fixation. Lightning strikes also result in some nitrogen fixation by splitting the nitrogen molecule into free nitrogen, which immediately reacts with oxygen in the air to form nitrogen oxides. Some of these nitrogen oxide gases dissolve in rainwater and eventually percolate into the soil (Pedosphere). The nutrients needed for plant growth are drawn from the soil from the roots to the leaves. Therefore, any organism (including humans) consuming the nuts, leaves, seeds, roots, tubercles, or fruits of plants can digest this organic form of nitrogen. The Nitrogen Cycle is this process of moving nitrogen among plants, animals, bacteria, the atmosphere, and soil in the ground. This cycle is continuous.
Human activities have a large impact on global nitrogen cycles. In agriculture, soils are generally not rich enough in fixed nitrogen to sustain repetitive crop yields year after year; as a result, farmers use compost heaps or add industrially mass-produced fertilizers such as ammonium nitrate (containing high amounts of organic nitrogen), to enhance the soil.
What Happens When Plants Don't Get Enough Nitrogen:
Plants deficient in nitrogen have thin, spindly stems and their growth is stunted. Their older leaves turn yellowish-green from the lack of chlorophyll produced in the leaves (chlorosis), while newer leaves are supplied with the available nitrogen and sufficient chlorophyll.
What Happens When Plants Get Too Much Nitrogen:
Plants that get too much nitrogen have a lot of foliage (leaf) growth but are not strong. Plants that are not strong can get diseases more easily, can be bothered more by bugs, and can eventually fall over and die. An excess amount of nitrogen in plants can affect the amount of sugar and vitamins in fruits and vegetables, making them taste different. More importantly, excess nitrogen can build up in plant tissues causing toxicity (poisoning) in livestock and in small children who eat nitrogen-rich, leafy vegetables. As we produce synthetic fertilizers, burn fossil fuels, grow legumes such as soybeans as a crop (which fix nitrogen), and clear, burn, and drain wetlands, we release nitrogen in forms that plants use. We have made the amount of biologically available nitrogen through human activity much greater than the nitrogen fixed by bacteria, algae, and lightning.
The Nitrogen Cycle Processes:
- Fixation - Fixation is the first step in the process of making nitrogen usable by plants. Here bacteria change nitrogen into ammonium.
- Nitrification - This is the process by which ammonium gets changed into nitrates by bacteria. Nitrates are what the plants can then absorb.
- Assimilation - This is how plants get nitrogen. They absorb nitrates from the soil into their roots. Then the nitrogen gets used in amino acids, nucleic acids, and chlorophyll.
- Ammonification (or mineralization) - This is part of the decaying process. When a plant or animal dies, decomposers like fungi and bacteria turn the nitrogen back into ammonium so it can reenter the nitrogen cycle.
Nitrogen As a Pollutant in the Atmosphere
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a gas that occurs naturally in our atmosphere, but in concentrations very low as compared to oxygen (O2) and nitrogen (N2). NO2 is also common pollutant produced primarily during the combustion of gasoline in vehicle engines and coal in power plants. NO2 is part of a family of chemical compounds collectively called “nitrogen oxides” or “NOx”. Nitric oxide (NO) is also part of the NOx family. Together, NO and NO2 play important roles in the chemical formation of ozone near the Earth's surface, as well as contribute to smog when combined with oxygen molecules and the fumes from paint and gasoline (called Volatile Organic Compounds or VOC’s). These compounds also contribute to the production of acid rain when mixed with water vapor forming nitric acid.
Using new, high-resolution global satellite maps of air quality indicators, NASA scientists tracked air pollution trends over the last decade in various regions and 195 cities around the globe. According to recent NASA research findings, the United States, Europe, and Japan have improved air quality thanks to emission control regulations, while China, India and the Middle East, with their fast-growing economies and expanding industry, have seen more air pollution.
Ozone occurs naturally in the air we breathe, but there's not enough of it to hurt us. Ozone high in the atmosphere (i.e., in the stratospheric “ozone layer”) protects us; it is like sunscreen, protecting us from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the Sun. Near the ground though, ozone is a pollutant. It damages our lungs and harms plants, including the plants we eat. Unhealthy levels of ozone form when there is a lot of NO2 in the air. NO2—and ozone—concentrations are usually highest in cities since NO2 is released into the atmosphere when we burn gas in our cars or coal in our power plants, both things that happen more in cities.
Nitrogen dioxide breaks apart in sunlight releasing free oxygen atoms to connect onto oxygen molecules forming dangerous ground-level ozone. Since sunlight is an important ingredient in the formation of high concentrations of ozone, ozone in urban areas tends to be greatest in summer when sunlight is strongest. NO2 is also unhealthy to breathe in high concentrations, such as on busy streets and highways where there are lots of cars and trucks. When driving, it is typically a good idea to keep the car windows rolled up and the car's ventilation set to “recirculate” so as to keep pollution out of the interior of the car. It is also important to reduce outdoor activities like playing or jogging if government officials warn you that air quality will be bad on a certain day.
Nitrous oxide (N20) is a powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat near the Earth’s surface. You may have heard of it before, referred to as “laughing gas” which is a common medical treatment to decrease pain. It is produced almost entirely at the Earth's surface, about 70% from through natural processes in the Earth’s Biosphere (tiny microbes that alter nitrogen in the soils of tropical forests and in the oceans) and the rest from human activities (e.g. from farm animals, sewage, and fertilizers, as well as fossil-fuel burning). Quantities of nitrous oxide have increased since the Industrial Revolution in the Atmosphere as Earth’s climate has gotten warmer. scientists have observed an increase in N2O of about 0.3%/year since the 1950's.
For more information about the Nitrogen Cycle, visit UCAR.
The Carbon Cycle
Carbon is a fundamental part of the Earth system. It is the backbone of life on Earth. We are made of carbon, we eat carbon, and our civilizations—our economies, our homes, our means of transport—are built on carbon. Forged in the heart of aging stars, carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the Universe. Most of Earth’s carbon—about 65,500 billion metric tons—is stored in rocks. The rest is in the ocean, atmosphere, plants, soil, and fossil fuels. Carbon moves from the atmosphere to the land, ocean, and life through biological, chemical, geological and physical processes in a cycle called the carbon cycle. Any change in the cycle that shifts carbon out of one reservoir puts more carbon in the other reservoirs. Carbon flows between each reservoir in slow and fast cycles.
This diagram of the fast carbon cycle shows the movement of carbon between land, atmosphere, and oceans. Yellow numbers are natural fluxes, and red are human contributions in gigatons of carbon per year. White numbers indicate stored carbon.
Over the long term, the carbon cycle seems to maintain a balance that prevents all of Earth’s carbon from entering the atmosphere (as is the case on Venus) or from being stored entirely in rocks. This balance helps keep Earth’s temperature relatively stable, like a thermostat. This thermostat works over a few hundred thousand years, as part of the slow carbon cycle. This means that for shorter time periods—tens to a hundred thousand years—the temperature of Earth can vary. And, in fact, Earth swings between ice ages and warmer interglacial periods on these time scales. Parts of the carbon cycle may even amplify these short-term temperature changes.
On very long time scales (millions to tens of millions of years), the movement of tectonic plates and changes in the rate at which carbon seeps from the Earth’s interior may change the temperature on Earth’s thermostat. Earth has undergone such a change over the last 50 million years, from the extremely warm climates of the Cretaceous (roughly 145 to 65 million years ago) to the glacial climates of the Pleistocene (roughly 1.8 million to 11,500 years ago). [See Divisions of Geologic Time—Major Chronostratigraphic and Geochronologic Units for more information about geological eras.]
Through a series of chemical reactions and tectonic activity, carbon takes between 100-200 million years to move between rocks, soil, ocean, and atmosphere in the slow carbon cycle. On average, 1013 to 1014 grams (10–100 million metric tons) of carbon move through the slow carbon cycle every year. In comparison, human emissions of carbon to the atmosphere are on the order of 1015 grams (1 Billion Metric Tons), whereas the fast carbon cycle moves 1016 to 1017 grams (10-100 billion Billion Metric Tons) of carbon per year.
The movement of carbon from the Atmosphere to the Geosphere (rocks) begins with rain. Atmospheric carbon combines with water to form a weak acid—carbonic acid—that falls to the surface in rain. The acid dissolves rocks—a process called chemical weathering—and releases calcium, magnesium, potassium, or sodium ions. Rivers carry the ions to the ocean. Rivers carry calcium ions—the result of chemical weathering of rocks—into the ocean, where they react with carbonate dissolved in the water. The product of that reaction, calcium carbonate, is then deposited onto the ocean floor, where it becomes limestone. In the ocean, the calcium ions combine with bicarbonate ions to form calcium carbonate, the active ingredient in antacids and the chalky white substance that dries on your faucet if you live in an area with hard water. In the modern ocean, most of the calcium carbonate is made by shell-building (calcifying) organisms (such as corals) and plankton (like coccolithophores and foraminifera). After the organisms die, they sink to the seafloor. Over time, layers of shells and sediment are cemented together and turn to rock, storing the carbon in stone—limestone and its derivatives. Limestone, or its metamorphic cousin, marble, is rock made primarily of calcium carbonate. These rock types are often formed from the bodies of marine plants and animals, and their shells and skeletons can be preserved as fossils. Carbon locked up in limestone can be stored for millions—or even hundreds of millions—of years. Only 80 percent of carbon-containing rock is currently made this way. The remaining 20 percent contain carbon from living things (organic carbon) that have been embedded in layers of mud. Heat and pressure compress the mud and carbon over millions of years, forming sedimentary rock such as shale. In special cases, when dead plant matter builds up faster than it can decay, layers of organic carbon become oil, coal, or natural gas instead of sedimentary rock like shale. This coal seam in Scotland was originally a layer of sediment, rich in organic carbon. The sedimentary layer was eventually buried deep underground, and the heat and pressure transformed it into coal. Coal and other fossil fuels are a convenient source of energy, but when they are burned, the stored carbon is released into the atmosphere. This alters the balance of the carbon cycle and is changing Earth’s climate.
The slow cycle returns carbon to the atmosphere through volcanoes. Earth’s land and ocean surfaces sit on several moving crustal plates. When the plates collide, one sinks beneath the other, and the rock it carries melts under the extreme heat and pressure. The heated rock recombines into silicate minerals, releasing carbon dioxide. When volcanoes erupt, they vent the gas to the atmosphere and cover the land with fresh silicate rock to begin the cycle again. At present, volcanoes emit between 130 and 380 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. For comparison, humans emit about 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year—100–300 times more than volcanoes—by burning fossil fuels.
Chemistry regulates this dance between ocean, land, and atmosphere. If carbon dioxide rises in the atmosphere because of an increase in volcanic activity, for example, temperatures rise, leading to more rain, which dissolves more rock, creating more ions that will eventually deposit more carbon on the ocean floor. It takes a few hundred thousand years to rebalance the slow carbon cycle through chemical weathering. Carbon stored in rocks is naturally returned to the atmosphere by volcanoes. In this photograph, Russia’s Kizimen Volcano vents ash and volcanic gases in January 2011. Kizimen is located on the Kamchatka Peninsula, where the Pacific Plate is subducting beneath Asia. However, the slow carbon cycle also contains a slightly faster component: the ocean. At the surface, where air meets water, carbon dioxide gas dissolves in and ventilates out of the ocean in a steady exchange with the atmosphere. Once in the ocean, carbon dioxide gas reacts with water molecules to release hydrogen ions, making the ocean more acidic. The hydrogen reacts with carbonate from rock weathering to produce bicarbonate ions.
Before the industrial age, the ocean vented carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in balance with the carbon the ocean received during rock weathering. However, since carbon concentrations in the atmosphere have increased, the ocean now takes more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. Over millennia, the ocean will absorb up to 85 percent of the extra carbon people have put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, but the process is slow because it is tied to the movement of water from the ocean’s surface to its depths.In the meantime, winds, currents, and temperature control the rate at which the ocean takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. (See The Ocean’s Carbon Balance on the Earth Observatory.) It is likely that changes in ocean temperatures and currents helped remove carbon from and then restore carbon to the atmosphere over the few thousand years in which the ice ages began and ended. This means that for shorter time periods—tens to a hundred thousand years—the temperature of Earth can vary. And, in fact, Earth swings between ice ages and warmer interglacial periods on these time scales. Parts of the carbon cycle may even amplify these short-term temperature changes.The uplift of the Himalaya, beginning 50 million years ago, reset Earth’s thermostat by providing a large source of fresh rock to pull more carbon into the slow carbon cycle through chemical weathering. The resulting drop in temperatures and the formation of ice sheets changed the ratio between heavy and light oxygen in the deep ocean, as shown in this graph. (Graph based on data from Zachos at al., 2001.)
The time it takes carbon to move through the fast carbon cycle is measured in a lifespan, which may not seem very quick. The fast carbon cycle is largely the movement of carbon through life forms on Earth or the Biosphere. Between 1015 and 1017 grams (1,000 to 100,000 million metric tons) of carbon move through the fast carbon cycle every year. On this time scale, the carbon cycle is most visible in life. Carbon plays an essential role in biology because of its ability to form many bonds—up to four per atom—in a seemingly endless variety of complex organic molecules. Plants and phytoplankton (microscopic organisms in the ocean) are the main components of the fast carbon cycle and convert carbon dioxide to biomass (like leaves and stems) through photosynthesis. In this process, they take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere by absorbing it into their cells with water to form sugar (CH2O) and oxygen. The chemical reaction looks like this:
CO2 + H2O + energy = CH2O + O2
During photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide and sunlight to create fuel—glucose and other sugars—for building plant structures. This process forms the foundation of the fast (biological) carbon cycle. (Illustration adapted from P.J. Sellers et al., 1992.)The bonds in the long carbon chains contain a lot of energy. When the chains break apart, the stored energy is released. This energy makes carbon molecules an excellent source of fuel for all living things. The carbon returns to the Atmosphere in the following processes but all involve the same chemical reaction:
- when plants and phytoplankton break down the sugar to get the energy they need to grow
- when plants and phytoplankton die or decay (and are eaten by bacteria) at the end of the growing season
- when plants and phytoplankton are eaten and digested by animals (including people) to get energy
- when plants and phytoplankton burn in fires
In each case, oxygen combines with sugar to release water, carbon dioxide, and energy. The basic chemical reaction looks like this:
CH2O + O2 = CO2 + H2O + energy
These four processes move carbon from a plant and put carbon gases into the Atmosphere. Changes that return carbon to the Atmosphere result in warmer temperatures on Earth.
The fast carbon cycle is so tightly tied to plant life that the growing season can be seen by the way carbon dioxide fluctuates in the atmosphere. In the Northern Hemisphere winter, when few land plants are growing and many are decaying, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations climb. During the spring, when plants begin growing again, concentrations drop. It is as if the Earth is breathing. Because plants and animals are an integral part of the carbon cycle, the carbon cycle is closely connected to ecosystems. As ecosystems change under a changing climate, the carbon cycle will also change. For example, plants may bloom earlier in the year and grow for more months (assuming sufficient water is present) as the growing season gets longer, altering the food supply for animals in the ecosystem. If more plants grow, they will take more carbon out of the atmosphere and cool temperatures. If, on the other hand, warming slows plant growth, habitats will shift and more carbon will go into the atmosphere where it can cause additional warming.
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The five systems of Earth (geosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere) interact to produce the environments we are familiar with.
Biology, Ecology, Earth Science, Climatology, Geology, Oceanography
Great Bear Rainforest
Rainforests, like the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada, show the interaction of Earth's various biospheres.
Photograph by Paul Nicklen
What is the most important part of our planet, the main reason Earth is different from all the other planets in the solar system? If 10 different environmental scientists were asked this question, they would probably give 10 different answers. Each scientist might start with their favorite topic, from plate tectonics to rainforests and beyond. Eventually, however, their collective description would probably touch on all the major features and systems of our home planet. It turns out that no single feature is more significant than the others—each one plays a vital role in the function and sustainability of Earth’s system. There are five main systems, or spheres, on Earth. The first system, the geosphere, consists of the interior and surface of Earth, both of which are made up of rocks. The limited part of the planet that can support living things comprises the second system; these regions are referred to as the biosphere. In the third system are the areas of Earth that are covered with enormous amounts of water, called the hydrosphere. The atmosphere is the fourth system, and it is an envelope of gas that keeps the planet warm and provides oxygen for breathing and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Finally, there is the fifth system, which contains huge quantities of ice at the poles and elsewhere, constituting the cryosphere. All five of these enormous and complex systems interact with one another to maintain the Earth as we know it. When observed from space, one of Earth’s most obvious features is its abundant water. Although liquid water is present around the globe, the vast majority of the water on Earth, a whopping 96.5 percent, is saline (salty) and is not water humans, and most other animals, can drink without processing. All of the liquid water on Earth, both fresh and salt, makes up the hydrosphere, but it is also part of other spheres. For instance, water vapor in the atmosphere is also considered to be part of the hydrosphere. Ice, being frozen water, is part of the hydrosphere, but it is given its own name, the cryosphere. Rivers and lakes may appear to be more common than are glaciers and icebergs, but around three-quarters of all the fresh water on Earth is locked up in the cryosphere. Not only do the Earth systems overlap, they are also interconnected; what affects one can affect another. When a parcel of air in the atmosphere becomes saturated with water, precipitation , such as rain or snow, can fall to Earth’s surface. That precipitation connects the hydrosphere with the geosphere by promoting erosion and weathering , surface processes that slowly break down large rocks into smaller ones. Over time, erosion and weathering change large pieces of rocks—or even mountains—into sediments, like sand or mud. The cryosphere can also be involved in erosion , as large glaciers scour bits of rock from the bedrock beneath them. The geosphere includes all the rocks that make up Earth, from the partially melted rock under the crust, to ancient, towering mountains, to grains of sand on a beach. Both the geosphere and hydrosphere provide the habitat for the biosphere, a global ecosystem that encompasses all the living things on Earth. The biosphere refers to the relatively small part of Earth’s environment in which living things can survive. It contains a wide range of organisms, including fungi, plants, and animals, that live together as a community. Biologists and ecologists refer to this variety of life as biodiversity . All the living things in an environment are called its biotic factors. The biosphere also includes abiotic factors, the nonliving things that organisms require to survive, such as water, air, and light. The atmosphere—a mix of gases, mostly nitrogen and oxygen along with less abundant gases like water vapor, ozone , carbon dioxide, and argon—is also essential to life in the biosphere. Atmospheric gases work together to keep the global temperatures within livable limits, shield the surface of Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and allow living things to thrive. It is clear that all of Earth’s systems are deeply intertwined, but sometimes this connection can lead to harmful, yet unintended, consequences. One specific example of interaction between all the spheres is human fossil fuel consumption. Deposits of these fuels formed millions of years ago, when plants and animals—all part of the biosphere—died and decayed. At that point, their remains were compressed within Earth to form coal, oil, and natural gas, thus becoming part of the geosphere. Now, humans—members of the biosphere—burn these materials as fuel to release the energy they contain. The combustion byproducts, such as carbon dioxide, end up in the atmosphere. There, they contribute to global warming, changing and stressing the cryosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. The many interactions between Earth’s systems are complex, and they are happening constantly, though their effects are not always obvious. There are some extremely dramatic examples of Earth’s systems interacting, like volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, but there are also slow, nearly undetectable changes that alter ocean chemistry, the content of our atmosphere, and the microbial biodiversity in soil. Each part this planet, from Earth’s inner core to the top of the atmosphere, has a role in making Earth home to billions of lifeforms.
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- Climate change
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Planet Earth is dynamic with a surface that is always changing. Rocks can be converted into another type of rock, for example igneous to metamorphic. These process are shown in the rock cycle , which describes the ways in which rocks are slowly recycled over millions of years and transformed between the three rock types: sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks.
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Erosion involves the movement of rock fragments through gravity, wind, rain, rivers, oceans and glaciers.
Weathering is the wearing down or breaking of rocks while they are in place.
Deposition is the laying down of sediment carried by wind, water, or ice.
Landforms are features on the Earth’s surface that make up the terrain.
Relief is the term used for the differences in height across the land’s surface and is affected by the underlying rocks.
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- Published: 13 January 2020
The emergence and evolution of Earth System Science
- Will Steffen ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-1163-6736 1 , 2 ,
- Katherine Richardson 3 ,
- Johan Rockström 2 , 4 ,
- Hans Joachim Schellnhuber 4 ,
- Opha Pauline Dube 5 ,
- Sébastien Dutreuil 6 ,
- Timothy M. Lenton 7 &
- Jane Lubchenco 8
Nature Reviews Earth & Environment volume 1 , pages 54–63 ( 2020 ) Cite this article
- Climate sciences
- Environmental sciences
- Environmental social sciences
- Scientific community
An Author Correction to this article was published on 03 September 2020
This article has been updated
Earth System Science (ESS) is a rapidly emerging transdisciplinary endeavour aimed at understanding the structure and functioning of the Earth as a complex, adaptive system. Here, we discuss the emergence and evolution of ESS, outlining the importance of these developments in advancing our understanding of global change. Inspired by early work on biosphere–geosphere interactions and by novel perspectives such as the Gaia hypothesis, ESS emerged in the 1980s following demands for a new ‘science of the Earth’. The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme soon followed, leading to an unprecedented level of international commitment and disciplinary integration. ESS has produced new concepts and frameworks central to the global-change discourse, including the Anthropocene, tipping elements and planetary boundaries. Moving forward, the grand challenge for ESS is to achieve a deep integration of biophysical processes and human dynamics to build a truly unified understanding of the Earth System.
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03 september 2020.
A Correction to this paper has been published: https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-020-0100-8
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JR was supported for this work by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene, grant no. ERC-2016-ADG 743080).
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- Landforms on Earth and External Processes
There are various landforms on earth. By now, you would know about the internal factors that have an impact on them. But do you know what are the external factors that have an impact on them? Let’s find out more about Landforms on Earth and External Processes.
Landforms on earth.
Any natural feature of the solid surface of the earth or any other planetary body is a landform. Usually, they are in the form of hills, mountains, plains, valleys, plateaus, canyons, shorelines, volcanoes, etc.
Physical attributes such as elevation, slope, orientation, stratification, rock exposure, and soil type decided the characteristics of a landform. Landforms together make up a given terrain, and their arrangement in the landscape is known as topography.
Browse more Topics under General Physical Geography
- What is Geography
- Landforms of the Earth and Internal Forces
- Physical Features of Geography
Some of the external processes that have an impact on landforms are:
- Denudation: Denudation is a process where the wearing away of the surface of the earth is caused due to moving water, by ice, by wind, and by waves, leading to a reduction in elevation and in relief of landforms and of landscapes. Weathering and Erosion are parts of denudation.
- Deposition: Deposition is the geological process in which sediments, soil, and rocks are added to a landform or land mass. It can be caused by water, ice, wind, living organisms, evaporation, precipitation, etc. Deposition of organic matter may also affect the landforms.
Questions For You
Q1. Which one of the following combinations of stalactites arid stalagmites occurrences is correct?
- Stalactites hang as icicles of different diameters and stalagmites hanging from the floor of the caves.
- Stalactites hang as icicles of different diameters and stalagmites rise up from the floor of the caves.
- They rise up from the floor of the caves and stalagmites hang as icicles of different diameters
- Stalactites hang as icicles of different diameters and stalagmites also hang as icicles of different diameters.
Sol. The correct answer is the option ”b”. Stalactites and stalagmites are both rock formations which may be composed of minerals, lava, sand, pitch etc. Stalactites hang as icicles from the ceilings of the caves and may be of different diameters. Stalagmites rise from the floor of the caves and are formed due to an accumulation of material dropped from the stalactites.
Q2. With respect to chemical weathering a denudational process, choose the correct statements
- It may weaken or entirely dissolve certain constituent of rocks.
- In granite, which is made up of quartz feldspar and mica, feldspar easily weathers away.
- A loosened material, as in the example of granite, quartz and mica are eroded.
- A weathered material as in case of granite, feldspar forms regolith, basis of soil.
- All of the above
Sol: The correct answer is the option ”d”. Chemical weathering may weaken or dissolve certain constituent of rocks. In granite, which is made up of quartz feldspar and mica, feldspar easily weathers away. A loosened material, as in the example of granite, quartz and mica are eroded. A weathered material as in case of granite, feldspar forms regolith, basis of soil.
General Physical Geography
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Geology and Ecosystems pp 171–181 Cite as
Exogenic Geological Processes As a Landform-Shaping Factor
- Marek Graniczny 5
Exogenic processes include geological phenomena and processes that originate externally to the Earth’s surface. They are genetically related to the atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere, and therefore to processes of weathering, erosion, transportation, deposition, denudation etc. Exogenic factors and processes could also have sources outside the Earth, for instance under the influence of the Sun, Moon etc. The above mentioned processes constitute essential landform-shaping factors - Figure 14-1. Their rate and activity very often depends on local conditions, and can also be accelerated by human action. It is also true that combined functioning of exogenic and endogenic factors influences the present complicated picture of the Earth’s surface.
- Debris Flow
- Mass Wasting
- Alluvial Terrace
- Valley Wall
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Graniczny, M. (2006). Exogenic Geological Processes As a Landform-Shaping Factor. In: Zektser, I.S., Marker, B., Ridgway, J., Rogachevskaya, L., Vartanyan, G. (eds) Geology and Ecosystems. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-29293-4_14
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Understanding Global Change
Discover why the climate and environment changes, your place in the Earth system, and paths to a resilient future.
Earth’s internal heat
Earthquakes jolt and shake us. Volcanoes erupt, shooting ash and hot gases into the atmosphere and pouring molten rock over the land. Great mountain ranges gradually inch upward, over the course of millennia.
Earth’s geosphere is constantly moving and changing, and the energy for all that movement comes from Earth’s internal heat.
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What is earth's internal heat, earth system models about earth’s internal heat, how human activities are influenced by earth’s internal heat, explore the earth system, links to learn more.
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Earth’s internal heat contributes to the energy budget , specifically the energy available on Earth that drives system processes in the geosphere. Earth’s internal heat is an essential part of How the Earth System Works. Click the image on the left to open the Understanding Global Change Infographic . Locate the Earth’s internal heat icon and identify other Earth system processes and phenomena that cause changes to, or are affected by, Earth’s internal heat.
Adapted from the USGS
Most of Earth’s internal heat is left over from when our planet formed, about 4.5 billion years ago. Earth and the other planets in the solar system first began to take shape as countless smaller bodies collided and clumped together. The energy of those violent collisions transformed into heat energy. As the early Earth grew bigger, gravity began pulling matter toward the center. The intense compression of material deep inside the Earth increased internal heat even further.
Once temperatures were high enough, the element iron began to melt and sink toward the center, as less dense material rose towards the surface. The friction of the iron moving down through the other material generated even more heat. As denser material sank, layers formed inside the Earth: A core primarily made of iron, the less dense mantle, and even less dense crust (to learn more about the structure of the Earth, visit the plate tectonics page).
Since its formation, the Earth has been losing heat to space. Certain elements, known as radioactive elements such as potassium, uranium, and thorium, break down through a process known as radioactive decay, and release energy. This radioactive decay in Earth’s crust and mantle continuously adds heat and slows the cooling of the Earth.
After 4.5 billion years, the inside of the Earth is still very hot (in the core, approximately 3,800°C – 6,000°C), and we experience phenomena generated by this heat, including earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountain building.
While Earth’s internal heat is the energy sources for processes like plate tectonics and parts of the rock cycle , it provides only a fraction of a percent to the Earth’s average atmospheric temperature . Overall, Earth’s interior contributes heat to the atmosphere at a rate of about 0.05 watts per square meter while incoming solar radiation adds about 341.3 watts per square meter.
This Earth system model is one way to represent the essential processes that are related to the Earth’s internal heat, including plate tectonics and the rock cycle. Hover over the icons for brief explanations; click on the icons to learn more about each topic.
Download the Earth system models on this page.
Earth’s internal heat shapes global landforms and environments through processes in the geosphere. This model shows some of the phenomena that result from plate tectonics and the rock cycle, including mountain building, volcanism, and the distribution of continents and oceans . These phenomena, ultimately driven by Earth’s internal heat, have far-reaching effects on other parts of the Earth system, including wind patterns and airborne particles in the atmosphere, and species ranges in the biosphere.
The use of Earth’s internal heat as a renewable energy source can decrease the burning of fossil fuels and the impact of humans on the Earth system. Hover over or click on the icons to learn more about these human causes of change and how they influence the Earth system.
Click the icons and bolded terms on this page to learn more about these process and phenomena (e.g. plate tectonics , evolution , etc.). Alternatively, explore the Understanding Global Change Infographic and find new topics that are of interest and/or locally relevant to you.
To learn more about teaching Earth’s internal heat, visit the Teaching Resources page.
- Why Earth’s internal heat does not control climate
- EPA Geothermal Energy
- Student Reading: Energy from and to Earth
- Why is the earth’s core so hot? And how do scientists measure its temperature?
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Understanding Earth Processes: Internal and External Forces that Shape our Planet
Article 24 Apr 2023 805 0
The Earth's landscape is constantly changing, shaped by a combination of internal and external processes. Internal processes, also known as endogenic forces, refer to geologic processes that occur within the Earth's crust, mantle, and core. External processes, also known as exogenic forces, refer to geomorphic processes that occur on the Earth's surface. In this article, we will explore the dynamic forces that shape our planet, from tectonic plates to erosion, volcanoes to glaciers, and the impact of climate change on Earth's processes.
Internal Forces: Tectonic Plates
Tectonic plates are large pieces of the Earth's crust that move and interact with each other. The movement of these plates is responsible for the formation of many geological features, including mountain ranges, oceanic trenches, and volcanic islands. There are three main types of plate boundaries: divergent, convergent, and transform. Divergent boundaries occur when plates move away from each other, creating new crust. Convergent boundaries occur when plates collide, causing one plate to subduct beneath the other. Transform boundaries occur when plates slide past each other, causing earthquakes.
The movement of tectonic plates also contributes to the Earth's internal processes, such as the formation of magma chambers and the release of volcanic gases. This can lead to volcanic activity, which can have a significant impact on the surrounding landscape and global climate patterns. For example, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 caused widespread destruction and had a significant impact on global climate patterns for several years.
External Forces: Erosion
Erosion is the process of wearing away or breaking down the Earth's surface. There are several different types of erosion, including weathering, mass wasting, and sedimentation. Weathering refers to the breakdown of rocks and minerals by physical or chemical means, such as freeze-thaw cycles or acid rain. Mass wasting refers to the movement of soil or rock downhill due to gravity. Sedimentation refers to the deposition of sediment, such as sand or gravel, by wind or water.
Erosion can have a significant impact on the Earth's surface, shaping features such as canyons, valleys, and coastlines. The Grand Canyon, for example, was formed over millions of years by the erosive force of the Colorado River.
Volcanic activity is another important external process that shapes the Earth's surface. Volcanoes form when magma rises to the Earth's surface and erupts as lava, ash, and gases. There are several different types of volcanoes, including shield, cinder cone, and composite. Shield volcanoes are characterized by their broad, gently sloping shape and are formed by repeated lava flows. Cinder cone volcanoes are small, steep-sided volcanoes that are formed by explosive eruptions. Composite volcanoes, also known as stratovolcanoes, are tall, steep-sided volcanoes that are formed by a combination of explosive eruptions and lava flows.
The effects of volcanic activity can be both destructive and constructive. On the one hand, volcanic eruptions can cause significant damage to surrounding communities and ecosystems. On the other hand, volcanic activity can also create new land, such as volcanic islands.
Glaciers are large masses of ice that form over land and can move under their own weight. There are several different types of glaciers, including ice sheets, ice caps, and ice fields. Glaciers are formed by a combination of snowfall, compaction, and ice flow.
Glaciers can have a significant impact on the Earth's surface, shaping features such as valleys and fjords. Glacier retreat in the Arctic is contributing to rising sea levels and changes in ocean circulation patterns . Glaciers are also a valuable source of freshwater and play an important role in regulating global climate patterns. As temperatures rise due to climate change, glaciers around the world are melting at an alarming rate. This has significant implications for ecosystems, economies, and human societies that depend on glaciers for water and other resources.
The Impact of Climate Change on Earth's Processes
Climate change is caused by the release of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat from the sun, causing the Earth's temperature to rise. The impacts of climate change are far-reaching and include rising sea levels, more frequent and severe weather events, and changes in precipitation patterns.
Climate change also has a significant impact on the Earth's internal and external processes. For example, melting glaciers and ice sheets can cause sea levels to rise, leading to flooding and erosion along coastlines. The loss of ice also affects the Earth's albedo, or reflectivity, which can further exacerbate warming trends.
Another example is the impact of climate change on volcanic activity. As glaciers melt, they can relieve pressure on underlying magma chambers, causing increased volcanic activity in some regions. This has been observed in Iceland, where melting glaciers have been linked to increased volcanic eruptions.
Climate change is also affecting the Earth's weathering and erosion processes. As temperatures rise, the rate of chemical weathering increases, leading to changes in soil quality and nutrient availability. This can have significant impacts on agricultural production and ecosystem health. In addition, more frequent and intense storms can cause erosion and sedimentation, leading to changes in river channels and coastal landscapes.
Understanding the internal and external processes that shape the Earth is crucial for understanding the planet we live on. From tectonic plates and volcanic activity to erosion and glaciation, these processes are dynamic and constantly changing. They have shaped the Earth's landscapes over millions of years, and they continue to do so today.
However, these processes are not static. Human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation are altering the Earth's natural systems, leading to widespread environmental degradation and climate change. It is essential that we work to mitigate these impacts and find ways to live sustainably on our planet.
By understanding the Earth's processes and the impact of human activities on the planet, we can work to create a more sustainable and resilient future for ourselves and for the generations to come.
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Home — Essay Samples — Science — Earth Science
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The Layers of The Earth and Their Function
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An Understanding of How Science Progresses
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The Scientific Applications of Solar Eclipse
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Earth - List of Essay Samples And Topic Ideas
Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only known celestial body to support life. Essays could explore its physical properties, the diverse ecosystems it supports, environmental challenges faced, and human interactions with our planet. Discussions might also include the importance of sustainable practices to ensure Earth’s longevity. We have collected a large number of free essay examples about Earth you can find in Papersowl database. You can use our samples for inspiration to write your own essay, research paper, or just to explore a new topic for yourself.
Save the Earth from the Plastic Pollution
Pollution is caused by some sort of toxic waste that is thrown into the atmosphere or land nearby. There are many types of pollution, the main are air pollution, plastic pollution, and water pollution, all three are very dangerous to the ecosystem. Pollution is the contamination of the environment in which we live in and it harms nature and living things around it. It is the biggest global killer affecting over 100 million people. That’s more than global diseases like […]
How Humans and Nature Change Earth
Every time we come to the beach, we play around in the water or sand. then we'll notice that there are bits of rubbish everywhere. These effects damaging earth. We need be cautious of what we do but were not the one causes it so does nature too. Nature changes Earth in many different ways both positive and negative. For example, “The Grand Canyon was never a canyon, it was any normal hill until wind erosions carry sand to scrape […]
Global Warming Affects the Natural Balance of Environment
The world climate is changing significantly day by day. What is Global Warming? Global Warming is a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth's atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide. Climate change causes an increase in average temperature. However a worldwide temperature adjustment are caused by characteristic occasions and humans that are accepted to be an add to accretion in normal temperatures. An Earth-wide temperature boost is a difficult issue […]
Global Warming: its Causes and its Real Impact on the Earth
The steadily increasing temperature of our planet's atmosphere is known as global warming. Global warming has been a subject of much political and social controversy in recent years due to arguments questioning its legitimacy. When the facts of these arguments are seen in context, their relevance becomes apparent. The data clearly indicate that global warming is happening and that it is human-induced. The anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases negatively impacts our environment, causing an increase in global temperature. This results […]
The Ins and Outs of “The Happiest Place on Earth”
As you enter the park gates you are greeted with the quote "Welcome to the Happiest Place on Earth". As you walk down Main Street crowded with thousands of people it feels like you are in a dream. If you haven't already guessed its Walt Disney World. Yes, we could talk about all the attractions and secrets to discover, but what people want answers about the history of the park, what is behind the so-called "magic", and as well as […]
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Global Warming and its Effects
Global warming has been a top discussion for a while now. Some people believe it is true based on the change in weather, more fires/floods, and severe droughts in some areas while others deny the fact that it is occurring. Recently, the topic of global warming has become more of a political topic. This is probably because a lot of the industries that are causing some of the issues would be affected financially if they were forced to take responsibility […]
Robots Taking over Jobs
Did you know that about thirty percent of the Earth’s population is unemployed? This sounds crazy to believe but unfortunately, it’s true. The main reason such a catastrophe is occurring is that we’re moving fast into the future, now than ever before. Almost every day, the world changes and humans come up with ways to improve it even more. Some of those improvements occur at the cost of innocent lives. For example, robots stealing our jobs is one of them. […]
Human Nature: the Anthropocene
Introduction The anthropogenic impact on the environment is one of the main contributors to the ecological crisis. In “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?,” Steffen et al., claim that human evolution from hunter-gatherers to a global geophysical force have reached peak “Great Acceleration,” of the degradation of the environment. The authors divide the environmental changes into three different components. The first component is the collection of anthropogenic or “human-driven” changes. The second component is the […]
All Summer in a Day Theme
In “All Summer in a Day,” a gathering of schoolchildren live in a world of Venus with their families. The children are nine years of age, anxiously anticipating a groundbreaking event. Following five years of constant downpours, the researchers on Venus have anticipated that the sun will come out today, signaling an extremely rare event. The kids remember seeing the sun when they were two; however, they do not recall what the giant body looks or feels like. To plan […]
The Flowers by Alice Walker
Written in the 1970's The Blooms is set in the significant south of America and is about Myop, a little 10-year old African American young woman who examines the grounds in which she lives. Walker explores how Myop reacts in different conditions. She forms from a third-individual perspective of Myop's examination. In the underlying two area Walker obviously underlines Myop's faultlessness and energetic chastity. She skipped delicately from hen house to pigpen. This shows how lively Myop is in this […]
Global Warming: the Truth Behind the Matter
Approximately 4.543 billion years ago the earth that we call home was created. Since that time the atmosphere has gone through some drastic changes but, the most change seen in the atmosphere has been within the last 100 years. The reason behind this change has been human evolution and the changes we have had industrial wise. As technology has continued to grow so has our need for the thing that affect our environment badly and help power our new ideals. […]
The Author of the Passage “Fracking Contributes to Global Warming”
Louis believed that fracking has gone to the “extreme” nowadays since a great deal of the “conventional reservoirs have been exploited” to extract gas and oil. According to Allstadt conventional gas and oil is the process of penetrating down the top of the rock, “an impervious rock that has trapped oil and gas underneath it, until the gas pressure will surge up the oil and gas.” The author is bothered with the big oil companies exploiting the technique to find […]
Global Warming and Environmental Pollution
Fossil fuels are a natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms. The burning of fossil fuels is the largest release that increases the temperatures of the world. The Earth’s temperature rises by the greenhouse gases that trap heat from the sun in the Earth’s atmosphere. Evidence has been collected and studied by scientists and engineers to prove that the world is warming and affecting the world (Shaftel par. 3). […]
Problems which Affected on Climate Change
Centuries has past and everyone around the globe has been affected by a problem that's consuming the planet. Climate change is a real thing and it has been changing throughout history. “The last 650,000 years there has been several cycles of glacial advance and retreat, which has been attributing to very small variations in earth's orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives”(“Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know?”). It's all round us but others believe that […]
Theories of Ice Ages Past and Future
Researchers were always interested in the question of the degree of human influence on its environment. Abnormal natural phenomena, a growing number of natural disasters, significant temperature fluctuations raise questions about global climate change now. Many of them are caused by natural factors. However, a lot of specialists talk about increasing human influence on the climate. The nature of the changes is not clearly defined. A large number of representatives of the scientific world believes that the era of the […]
The Terrible Consequences of Climate Change
The Glaciers are melting; Oceans are rising, the world as we know it is in a state of decay. During the early 1900’s, climate change wasn’t in the forefront of anyone’s mind. People used to lived in a way that gave back to the environment around them. Today climate change is a major topic for debate. In the Artic scientists are studying the growing rate of temperature change. Every year glaciers are melting at a higher rate of speed than […]
Climate Change: Vulnerability and Responsibility
When it comes to the environment people talk about how it is important to care for the earth we live in. While it is important to discuss such issues it is more beneficial to take action rather than to just talk about it. The earth is in desperate need of aid and though to many, it may not matter that the earth has increased a few degrees it can and has had devastating impacts. Taking responsibility for our home is […]
How Global Warming Works
There's bright blue in the past, now there is horrible gray in the future and more heat in the summers, and the winters are getting warmer than usual. The seas and oceans rising, the ice caps falling, and animals decreasing. It is time to come to a conflict that could make our planet Earth fall. Welcome to a tremendous problem EVERYONE is trying to solve global warming. Industrializing is a benefit for us and the economy. All of this falls […]
Causes and Effects of Global Warming
People are arguing if global warming is caused by man or if its a natural occurrence. Well, volcanoes have contributed to global warming such as El Chichon in 1982 and Pinatubo in 1991 they have cooled the earth's temperature but this was temporary. however, the amount of carbon dioxide they reliance is small compared to humans there are other things that can cause natural temperature changes tiny wiggles in the earth's orbit can change when and where sunlight hits even […]
United States: Global Warming and its Effects
Moreover, we cannot overlook the actual White House administration's stance on global warming. President Trump has confirmed all pro-environmentalist's fears. He has back out of the Paris agreement and pointed an avid opponent of global warming as the new head of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Samet, Jonathan M., and Alistair Woodward argue in their article that, The present administration, comfortable with alternative facts, whatever gap there may be between what is claimed and what is true, is feeding the anti-science […]
Winter is Better than Summer
I imagine that winter is superior to summer on the grounds that my number one occasions come around that time, similar to Christmas. What's more, the chilly climate is so great to awaken to. For Christmas you can commend it with your family and all be together; you can likewise go to the snow or it can snow where you reside. It simply depends, yet playing in the snow and seeing the snowflakes drop down is so lovely and unwinding […]
The World on the Turtle’s Back
Great A'Tuin is a rare fictional giant tortoise species living in outer space. On the turtle's back are four giant elephants, which, in turn, hold on their backs a huge Disc covered with a blue dome of the atmosphere. The elephants are named Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Fon and Jerakin. According to the theory of the "Fifth Elephant", there were originally five elephants, but one elephant could not stay on the turtle's back and, flying in orbit around it, crashed into […]
The American Dream Today
In today’s society Americans thrive on materialism. The American dream is becoming more and more materialistic. America is a nation obsessed with shopping and buying unnecessary products. It doesn’t matter how much “stuff” we have its never enough, we need the newest thing out and we need it now. (take it for granted). It has become like a competition amongst everyone to get that newest/best product out there even though you might not need it. Do you really need that […]
The Causes of Bleaching of Coral Reefs
Almost everyday, it seems as though there is a comment about Climate Change. Whether these comments are ways to combat climate change or simply saying it does not exist, we can not deny that it is ever so present in our world today. Many with power and fame try to completely ignore the changes in our world, we must acknowledge them and find ways to improve and prolong it. Though there are huge debates on climate change in our society, […]
Global Warming in a Nutshell
Global Warming An unnatural weather change is characterized as the relentless increment of the earth’s climate temperature this can be credited to the nursery impact. Although I don't live in Hollywood, Florida nor have I had the delight of visiting. During my exploration of this for the most part radiant spot, I have arrived at the resolution that the winters are short. Contrasted with Houston as of now and time in Florida the individuals are getting quite bright days. The […]
If the Big Bang wasn’t the Beginning, what was It?
American astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan once said, “Our ancestors worshipped the Sun, and they were not that foolish. It makes sense to revere the Sun and the stars, for we are their children.” The Sun is an entity that was one of the most crucial to be created, but is often pushed into the back our minds as we go about our daily routine. It has become some thing the we just accept is there and is an unchanging […]
How Carbon and Carbohydrate Affect Global Warming
Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide. It is a proposed solution to slow down the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. There are several ways to capture carbon dioxide including removing carbon dioxide from the air and putting it in a reservoir, removing carbon dioxide from power stations before it is released and storing it in reservoirs or naturally moving carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and reservoirs (Carbon). Chemical weathering is a […]
How Can Climate Change Affect Natural Disasters?
Global warming is considered a consensus problem which affected the lives of many people and nature catastrophically. This terrible phenomenon can be described as the rise of the regular temperature of earth which occurs when pollutants in the atmosphere absorb the heat that has bounced off the surface and should be taken to space. (Venkataramanan, 2011). Many people disagree on its existence, however the usual temperature of earth has risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit as said by NASA (Hardy, 2003). […]
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