A puzzle of the earth
The process of using all of the pieces to put a puzzle together is similar to how we study the Earth. By considering Earth as an integrated system, instead of isolated parts, we are able to explore our planet in a new way and understand the larger picture.
Earth's Atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere is a mixture of gases that surrounds our home planet. Besides providing us with something to breathe, the atmosphere helps make life on Earth possible in several ways.
beech tree with bright green leaves
The biosphere is all life on our planet. Interdisciplinary research combining biochemistry, geochemistry, biology, hydrology, and atmospheric science helps us to better understand the biosphere’s role in the Earth system and, in particular, how biogeochemical cycles affect the Earth system.
Bright orange sandstone canyon in Arizona. Photo by Sven van der Pluijm on Unsplash.
The geosphere includes the rocks and minerals on Earth – from the molten rock and heavy metals in the deep interior of the planet to the sand on beaches and peaks of mountains. Beyond these parts, the geosphere is about the processes responsible for the constant recycling of rocks on Earth.
Fracturing of the sea ice in the Beaufort Sea near the Arctic Ocean. Photo by USGS.
There are many different types of frozen water on Earth. Collectively, they are known as the cryosphere and are tied to the other parts of the Earth system.
The water cycle
Water can be in the atmosphere, on the land, in the ocean, and underground. It moves from place to place through the water cycle.
image of Earth with arrows; Image by anncapictures from Pixabay
All of the atoms that are building blocks of living things are a part of biogeochemical cycles. The most common of these are the carbon and nitrogen cycles.
ocean water being warmed by the sun
Why are seasonal temperature extremes milder near large bodies of water and more extreme further inland? It has to do with thermal inertia.
global energy flows diagram
Accounting for all the energy that enters and leaves the Earth system helps us understand why the planet is warming. This accounting of energy is known as Earth’s radiation budget.
The three mechanisms of heat transfer include radiation, convection and conduction.
Conduction is one of the three main ways that heat energy moves from place to place.
Earth's Energy Balance interactive
See how Earth's temperature would change if the Sun's brightness increased or dimmed or if Earth's albedo was different.
Earth System Activities
Help your students understand how Earth is a system. These diverse activities explore how changes in one aspect of our planet can have wide-ranging effects, particularly because of the cycling of energy, water, nitrogen, carbon.