Topics in Earth Systems Science



Earth Systems Science is the study of how Earth processes have interacted to create and sustain life on Earth for nearly 4 billion years.  This arc explores the connections between three essential processes: energy flows, matter cycles, and life webs, which brings together physics, chemistry, and biology.   

Energy flows drive everything - without it, there are no matter cycles or life webs.  All planets have some energy flows, so there will be matter cycles, but not many have complex life, as we see in our solar system.  Plants have altered Earth in such a way that has helped make it habitable for many other forms of life, including animals.

The world is a wondrous place, and I hope this arc gives you tools to question and explore your surroundings for many years to come.

Suggestion: print this page and check off chapters when completed.


Topics (Those without links are in the development stage)

Reading Science - a useful perspective if new to reading technical scientific articles.

Suggested Time: 30-45 min.

What is a System?  All parts of a system are interconnected and create a sum much bigger than the parts. Essential for exploring Earth Systems Science and all aspects in nature, business, technology, life, etc.

Suggested Time: 120-165 min.

Earth's Coordinate System - the location on Earth determines how much energy it receives from the Sun throughout the year. 

Suggested Time: 60-90 min.

Energy - Energy drives all processes, so it is the essence to our universe.   Energy comes in many forms, and may be transformed between forms instantly.  The focus will be on radiation, a form of energy that travels through a vacuum yet interacts with solids, liquids, and gases.  the Sun's radiation provides energy that drives most of Earth's surface processes.

Suggested Time: 3 60-minutes blocks of time, another 60-90 minutes if try the experiments.

Sun-Earth Connection - explore how the Earth's spherical shape, rotation, and orbit around the Sun create the night/day heating cycle, seasons, and climate regimes.

Suggested Time: Minimum of 7 60-minute blocks of time.  This is a dense topic which requires working through a variety of perspectives.

Star-Planet Connection - explore how variations in a planet's orbit create climate change. Earth's recent cycle of Ice Ages were triggered by small changes in its orbit.

Suggested Time: 4 60-minute blocks of time.


Vectors and Forces - forces are the amount of push/pull acting on an object.  Explore forces to understand how and why objects move.

Suggested Time: 2 60-minute blocks of time; 4 if new to trigonometry.

Earth, Wind, and Forces - winds move over Earth's rotating spherical surface and create vital Earth systems processes.

Suggested Time: 3 6--minute blocks of time.

Ocean Currents - create warm and cold currents that  heat to the Poles and bring back cold water to the Tropics to be warmed back up. 

Plate Tectonics - buoyancy and convection cells are continually making mountains, volcanoes, earthquakes, and changing the shape and locations of continents and ocean basins. 

Earthquakes - destructive movement of Earth's surface, but also providing critical information for what is happening inside the Earth.


Volcanoes - destructive forces of nature that also play a key role in long-term climate modification.

Earth's Magnetic Field - essential protector of our planet from solar winds, helping keep out atmosphere intact.  

Chemistry and The Periodic Table - get to know the Earth's matter cycles based on their chemical properties.

Chemistry of Water - the miracle molecule that makes complex life on Earth possible, moderating the Earth's climate, creating ice, rain, clouds, and much more.  

Ocean Salinity - if it gets too high, most marine life will die, but it has stayed within limits that have sustained life for billions of years.

Waves - more than just in the oceans, an important way energy moves through solids, liquids, and gases.