1-2-1Fundamental Concepts In Earth System Science
Source; The University of Oklahoma - Source Last updated: 17 Sep 01
C The Earth System (overview)
D Humankind In The Earth System (overview)
The Earth System
1-2-1-00 Earth System - References/Glossary
Humankind In The Earth System
Dr. John T. Snow - Last updated: 17 Sep 01
College of Geosciences
The University of Oklahoma
Sarkeys Energy Center, Room 710
100 East Boyd Street Norman, Oklahoma 73019-1008, U.S.A.
Phone: (405) 325-3101
"The artists of the Renaissance said that man's main concern should be for man, and yet there are other things of interest in the world. Even the artists appreciate sunsets, and the ocean waves, and the march of the stars across the heavens. There is then some reason to talk of other things sometimes. As we look into these things we get an aesthetic pleasure from them directly on observation. There is also a rhythm and a pattern which is not apparent to the eye, but only to the eye of analysis; and it is these rhythms and patterns which we call Physical Laws."
A Earth System Science
Earth System Science is an interdisciplinary endeavor that draws upon, integrates, and extends discipline-specific knowledge about Earth and the bounding astronomical environment to obtain a comprehensive, integrated (holistic) picture of the functioning of the planet.
Earth System Science explicitly recognizes Earth as being a global system of four closely coupled components or subsystems (see sketch):
1 earth (geosphere),
2 water (hydrosphere), and
3 air (atmosphere) and
4 life (biota).
Earth System Science describes how these components:
1 formed in the distant past,
2 have continuously co-evolved over geologic time to produce the dynamic global system observed today, and
3 may be expected to continue to co-evolve in the future.
Earth System Science explores the mechanisms by which energy -- from space and the planet's interior -- flows through the global system, forcing the recycling of matter within the system and driving co-evolutionary processes.
In the Earth System, the inanimate components evolve through geophysical processes, especially the interconnecting (bio)geochemical cycles, while the animate component, life, evolves through natural selection, responding to changes in the environment provided by crust, ocean, atmosphere, and life itself.
For conciseness and precision, descriptions of the Earth System are expressed using the methods and language of systems engineering.
B Ten Fundamental Concepts
The following ten fundamental concepts and the extended supporting notes have been developed following after a similar tabulation in Meyer and Armstrong (1990). It is intentional that this listing is not exhaustive with respect to knowledge about Planet Earth. Rather it is an attempt to summarize the key elements of knowledge necessary to understand Earth as system and how humans operate within and interact with that planet system.
The purposes of this list of fundamental concepts are three-fold:
To provide a frameworkfor integrating elements of knowledge from the life, physical, and Earth sciences to obtain an understanding of the Earth System as a whole;
To introduce systems concepts for describing the functioning of the Earth System; and
To show ties between Earth System Science and societal needs and concerns.
C The Earth System
1 Earth's Bounding Astronomical Environment
The Earth System is part of a vast and ancient Universe. All bodies in the Universe are composed of a small number of fundamental elements and interact through gravitational attraction, electromagnetic radiation, and collisions. All events in the Universe are described by a small number of physical principles.
2 Formation, Evolution, And Structure
The Earth System is composed of four subsystems: earth (geosphere), water (hydrosphere), air (atmosphere), and life (biota). These formed early in the planet's history and have co-evolved to produce the dynamic planetary system we experience today.
3 Mechanisms For Continuous Change
Earth's subsystems are continuously co-evolving through geophysical processes and connecting (bio-) geochemical cycles in response to forcings from space and the planet's interior. The animate component, life, evolves through natural selection, responding to changes in the environment provided by crust, ocean, atmosphere, and life itself.
4 Time And Space Scales
Natural processes throughout the Universe take place over a wide range of time and space scales.
The Earth System exists in a state of dynamic equilibrium.
D Humankind In The Earth System
6 Human Influence
Human activities -- such as the production of energy and food -- are carried on within and are part of Earth's subsystems.
Many parts of Earth's subsystems are limited and vulnerable to overuse, misuse, or change resulting from human activity.
Planet Earth is unique, a world of rare beauty and great value.
Earth scientists study phenomena and processes that occur within Earth's subsystems. Earth System scientists study the origin and evolution of those subsystems, focusing on the interconnections and interactions between them.
10 Justifying Our Study
Improved scientific understanding and technological advances have increased and will continue to increase our ability to observe, understand, and utilize Planet Earth.