Overview of Earth Science

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Overview of Earth Science

    • Earth Science is the study of Earth and its neighbors in space. It combines: geology, astronomy, meterology, and oceanography.

    • Geology is the study of the physical and historical aspects of Earth. Historical Geology – attempts to understand Earth’s history and create a timeline of events. Physical Geology – examines the materials that make up Earth and the various processes that shape our planet.

    • Astronomy is the study of the universe, stars, planets, and moons. By studying other objects in the universe we can learn about our own origins.

    • Meteorology is the study of the atmosphere and the processes that produce weather and climate.

    • Oceanography is the scientific study of Earth’s oceans. Oceanographers study the composition and movements of seawater, as well as coastal processes, seafloor topography, and marine life.

Earth’s Major Spheres

    • Earth is the only planet known to support life due to the interactions between its four major systems or spheres. Energy moves back and forth among these spheres within the system as a whole. They are known as the: atmosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and the biosphere.

    • Atmosphere: The gaseous envelope surrounding Earth. The atmosphere is composed of a mixture of gases including oxygen and carbon dioxide which are necessary for life. Earth is the only planet whose atmosphere contains oxygen.

    • Geosphere: The earth itself – including rocks, mountains, beaches, and all the other physical features except water. The geosphere is constantly changing - volcanic eruptions form new land, mountains are uplifted and eroded, and continents are in slow but constant motion.

    • Hydrosphere: Contains all the water in the Earth system, including ice and snow. Of all the water in the hydrosphere, only about one half of 1 percent is usable fresh water.

    • Biosphere: Consists of all the living things on the earth – from one-celled protozoan to jellyfish, to redwood trees to people.

Earth’s Changing Surface

    • With the spheres interacting with each other on a constant basis, Earth is a dynamic planet, which means that it is always changing.

    • Two types of forces shape Earth’s surface:

    • Destructive forces such as weathering and erosion work to wear away high points and flatten out the surface.

    • Constructive forces such as mountain building and volcanism build up the surface by raising the land and depositing new materials in the form of lava. Constructive forces depend on Earth’s internal heat for their source of energy.

What is a System?

    • Earth scientists study how the separate spheres are interconnected. This way of looking at Earth is called Earth System Science. The aim of Earth System Science is to understand Earth as a system made up of numerous interacting parts, or subsystems. A system is a type of model that can be any size group of interacting parts that form a complex whole.

    • Earth scientists study two types of systems: closed systems and open systems.

      • In a closed system, energy can enter the system but the matter in the system does not interact with outside surroundings.

      • In an open system, the system and its surroundings interact freely.

    • Scientists consider Earth to primarily be a closed system because it takes in energy from the sun but exchanges almost no matter outside of its own atmosphere. One of the consequences of this is that many of the planet’s resources are finite or limited.

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