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411 Physical Aspects of Environment

Earth Environment- Four Spheres

Earths ability to support life is due to the interaction of its four spheres: Atmosphere Biosphere Hydrosphere Geosphere (Lithosphere)


The life giving gaseous envelope surrounding Earth

Gaseous envelope surrounding Earth Composed of a mixture of gases that supports life
O2 CO2 Water vapor (influences weather)

Atmospheric pressure (winds) Where storms occur Only atmosphere in solar system containing oxygen

Layers of the atmosphere

There are 4 layers in the atmosphere They are the troposphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and stratosphere

This is the layer that is closest to the surface of the earth Its elevation ranges from 0 to 10 km

This layer sits on top of the troposphere Its elevation ranges from 10 km to around 25 km This layer contains the ozone layer, which protects us from harmful sunlight

This layer is above the stratosphere Its elevation ranges from 25 to 100 km

This is the highest layer of the atmosphere Its height ranges from 100 to 400 km This is where most small meteorites burn up

Most weather processes takes place in the Troposphere

1. Troposphere- literally means region where air turns over -temperature usually decreases (on average ~6.5C/km) with altitude Tropopause 2. Stratosphere- layer above the tropopause, little mixing occurs in the stratosphere, unlike the troposphere, where turbulent mixing is common Stratopause 3. Mesosphere- defined as the region where temperature again decreases with height. Mesopause 4. Thermosphere- region with very little of the atmospheres mass. high energy radiation received by the thermosphere (high temperatures experienced). A small density of molecules (not much heat would be felt).

Composition of Air
There are many different types of gasses in the atmosphere They include nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide and other noble gasses The gas that is most abundant is nitrogen

Hydrosphere The water portion of our the planet

The "Spheres" of the Earth

Hydrosphere: dynamic mass of liquid water which encircles the earth.

71% of the earth's surface is covered by seawater (oceans), which accounts for 97% of the earth's total water volume. The hydrosphere also includes:

streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, glaciers, and groundwater, which compose the freshwater portion of the hydrosphere.

The outer shell of Earths Surface

The physical features of the planet (except water):
Rocks, mountains, beaches, etc. Ocean basins, rock layers (even the mantle & core)

Minerals (e.g. iron, copper) Stone & concrete used for building

Constantly changing
Volcanic eruptions form new land Mountains rise up and are eroded Continents are constantly moving

Lithosphere and the solid earth: the solid earth lies beneath the atmosphere and the oceans and composes 29% of the earth's surface. It is divided into several distinct units or layers:
lithosphere or crust: two (2) types of crust: oceanic and continental with basic differences
float over oceanic crust

Oceanic crust is thinner, denser, and usually darker in color Continental crust is lighter in weight, less dense, light in color, and tends to

mantle: beneath the crust; houses molten rock material called magma outer core: composed of liquid iron and nickel; very dense material inner core: composed of solid iron and nickel; extremely dense material

Living things on the planet Conditions on Earth that support life are due to the interactions of geosphere, atmosphere, & hydrosphere Human impacts on the geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere ultimately affect the biosphere

Interactions Among the Spheres

Volcanic eruptions (geosphere) send materials into the air (atmosphere) and onto forested and populated lands (biosphere) Plants (biosphere) remove CO2 from the air (atmosphere) and water from the hydrosphere, while releasing O2 and water vapor, and are often eaten by animals (biosphere) Hurricanes (atmosphere) travel across the ocean (hydrosphere) and onto land (geosphere), damaging homes (biosphere) Humans (biosphere) drill wells into Earths crust for groundwater (hydrosphere) and drinking or irrigating crops (biosphere)

Interactions Change the Spheres Atmosphere & Biosphere:

Early Earths atmosphere had a high percentage of CO2 and little O2 Organisms that did photosynthesis increased the amount of O2 Land-dwelling animals breathed this O2

Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, & Biosphere:

Atmospheric cooling (Ice Age) caused glacial ice to form Mass extinction of many plant & animal species; while others adapted & evolved

Physical factors:
1: CLIMATIC FACTORS: Light, temperature, water availability, wind 2: EDAPHIC FACTORS: (soil) Aeration, drainage, humus content, mineral content, soil pH 3: GEOGRAPHIC FACTORS: Aspect (direction), slope, altitude, shelter.

Chemical Factors:
4: CHEMICAL FACTORS: Oxygen, pH, mineral availability, salinity

Connected with presence and activities of living organisms.-------Producers Competition with other animals for food --------Consumers-I Relationship between predator and prey. ----------- Consumers-II Effects of parasites ----------Decomposers Impact of humans

Environment of an Organism
ABIOTIC components
Heat Light Water Substrate physical chemical Atmosphere
Four elements of ancient Greek philosophy:

BIOTIC components
Conspecifics Food (prey) Predators Symbionts parasites commensals mutualists Competitors
Modifiers of the Abiotic Environment

Earth, air, fire, water


Weather is simply what is happening in the atmosphere at a particular place at a particular moment. Climate, on the other hand, is the average weather in an area over a long period of time. Important aspects of climate are: temperature, humidity, wind, and precipitation. Climate, particularly temperature and precipitation, determines what types of organisms are able to live in a region.

What determines climate?

Climate is determined by a variety of factors, including latitude, air circulation, ocean currents, and the local geography of an area. The most important of these factors is latitude.

Latitude is the distance from the equator, measured in degrees north or south of the equator. The equator is defined as 0. The most northerly latitude is the North Pole, at 90 north, while the most southerly is the South Pole, at 90 south.

Latitude strongly influences climate because of the amount of solar energy an area receives depends on its latitude. More solar energy falls on areas near the equator that on areas closer to the poles.

Atmospheric Circulation Patterns

There are three important properties of air that will help in the understanding of how air circulation affects climate. 1. cold air sinks and warms as it sinks 2. warm air rises and cools as it rises 3. warm air can hold more water vapor than cold air can.

Atmospheric Circulation Patterns

Solar energy heats the ground, which warms the air above it. The warm air rises and cooler air moves into replace it. Heating of the atmosphere therefore causes wind, or the movement of air within the atmosphere. Because different latitudes receive different amounts of solar energy, the patterns of global circulation result.

Atmospheric Circulation Patterns

Ocean Circulation Patterns

Ocean currents have a great effect on climate because water holds large amounts of heat. The movement of surface ocean currents is caused largely by winds and the rotation of the earth. These currents redistribute warm and cool masses of water.

Ocean Circulation Patterns

Seasonal Changes in Climate

The seasons are a result of the Earths orbit around the sun.

Seasonal Changes
The Earth is tilted at about 23 relative to the path of its orbit. This tilt means that the angle at which the suns rays strike the earth changes as the earth moves around the sun. During spring and summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the N. hemisphere tilts toward the sun and receives concentrated, direct sunlight. During fall and winter, the situation is reversed.

Seasonal Changes
The four seasons familiar to many people in the world do not occur in the tropics, which are regions close to the equator. The temperatures are high and constant throughout the year because most areas receive nearly direct sunlight year-round.

Varies with latitude Varies seasonally


Affected by sunlight Ocean currents


Warm air rises, Cool air falls Coriolus effect
An object in motion on the Earth's surface always appears to be deflected away from its course. This effect is a result of the Earth's rotation, and is called the Coriolis effect.


Warm moist air carried by winds, Condensation



Effect of bodies of water
Water holds heat Sea & land breezes

Effect of mountains
Windward side Leeward side, rain shadow


Greenhouse Earth

The Greenhouse Effect

The Earth is similar to a greenhouse. The atmosphere acts like the glass. As heat radiates up from the earth, some of it escapes into space. The rest of the heat is trapped by gases in the troposphere and warms the air. This process is called the GREENHOUSE EFFECT.

The Greenhouse Effect

Not every gas in our atmosphere traps heat this way. The gases that do trap and radiate heat are called greenhouse gases. The major greenhouse gases are water vapor, carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), methane, and nitrous oxide. After water vapor, carbon dioxide is the most important of the greenhouse gases.

Carbon Dioxide
In 1958, a geochemist named Charles Keeling began to measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the earths atmosphere. He noticed that during the winter months, carbon dioxide levels rose and during the summer months they dropped. After only a few years of measuring, it was apparent that the levels were getting higher in the winter and not dropping as much in the summer.

Carbon Dioxide
What might be the cause of the rise and fall of the level during the winter and summer months?

Plants use carbon dioxide to grow, so... During summer months the levels drop and during the winter months they rise. It is in correlation with the amount of plant growth.

Carbon Dioxide

Where is the extra Carbon Dioxide coming from?

Fossil fuels come from plants that have been buried for millions of years. These plants become coal, oil, or natural gas. When they are burned, they release the stored carbon as carbon dioxide. Millions of tons of carbon dioxide are poured into the atmosphere each year. There is also a significant release of carbon dioxide from the burning of large areas of forest.

Greenhouse gases and the Earths temperature

Since greenhouse gases trap heat near the Earths surface, many scientists think that the increase in carbon dioxide has resulted in an increase in Earths temperatures. This predicted increase in temperature is called GLOBAL WARMING.

A Warmer Earth
Scientists are not sure how quickly the earth will warm or how severe the effects will be. Different computer models give different answers to these questions.

A warmer Earth
If the Earth heats up significantly, the oceans will absorb more heat energy, which makes hurricanes and typhoons more common. Scientists are also concerned that the ocean currents may change, leading to droughts in some areas and major flooding in others.

A Warmer Earth
As polar regions warm, more icebergs may break loose from glaciers and melt in the sea. Sea levels would then rise, not only from melting ice but also the water expands as it warms. As a result of higher sea levels, some coastal areas might be covered with water.

The Ozone Shield

The stratosphere contains the Earths ozone shield. Ozone is a form of oxygen with molecules made of three oxygen atoms. Ozone absorbs most of the UV light from the sun. UV light is very harmful to organisms because it can damage the genetic material in living cells. The ozone layer is like sunscreen for the earth.

Ozone Eaters
CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) were thought to be miracle chemicals. They are nonpoisonous, nonflammable, non-corrosive metals. At Earths surface, CFCs are chemically stable. CFCs are now known to destroy our protective ozone layer.

The Ozone Hole

Data collected by satellites since 1979 shows a significant decrease in the amount of ozone at the poles. As the amount of Ozone decreases, more UV light is able to pass through to Earths surface. There are many detrimental effects of ozone thinning and increased UV penetration.

The Ozone Hole

Stopping Ozone Eaters

In 1987, the Montreal Protocol called for a sharp decrease in the production of CFCs. In 1992, 93 countries decided upon the following agreements:
1. Industrialized countries must eliminate CFCs 2. Industrialized agreed to help developing countries stop using CFCs 3. Banning of other substances that were also harmful to the ozone.