Every moment of your life will be from the perspective of a single planet— Planet Earth. You were born here and you will die here. This textbook is a guide to your home, to your place in the universe. By taking this course, you will learn about your home planet. How it works and how we know it works this way. This course is an users-manual for planet Earth, with direct recommendations for future generations such as yourself to maintain its health and natural wonders. As an astute student, you will be introduced to the theoretical principles of science, and how to defend yourself from the spread of ignorance. You will learn about Earth’s dimensions and motions, and how to navigate its surface. You will learn how energy originates from the closet star (the sun), its moon, and other sources of energy in the Earth’s active core, and how this energy can be used and stored. You will learn basic scientific principles of matter, the make-up of substances that form the field of chemistry. You will examine the planet’s atmosphere, the air that you are breathing as you read this, and how that air is slowly changing. You will explore the vast abundance of Earth’s water, covering the planet in enormous oceans, abundant lakes, and rivers, as well as frozen water locked within snow and ice. You will learn how to predict wind and storms and how climates shift. You will lead your own exploration of the solid interior of the Earth, the composition of mountains, rocks, and dirt. You will learn about life, the most unique feature of the planet. You will explore theories of how life arose and how it has evolved and changed over time. Learning that you are of Earth and the story of your own origin on this planet. You will undertake an examination of the great biomes of jungles, forests, and deserts, and the life that exists within them. You will survey the important field of biology, as you learn about life and its interactions with the planet. In the end, you will come to face the ominous future of your own planet, of the changes that are now occurring. Your planet is not the same as your ancestors, nor grandparents, nor your parents at your age — Earth today is quickly being altered, and you will need to adapt to this change. This course will teach you how to prepare for this change and how to protect the planet from further alteration to the point that it becomes life-less. This class will be challenging, but with enough dedication and commitment you will succeed in learning the material. You will cherish the knowledge presented in this class for the rest of your life.
Intended Audience of this Textbook
This textbook is written for an audience of introductory college students in a non-science degree program. It is intended to provide a detailed comprehensive knowledge of Planet Earth, including basic aspects of physics, chemistry, geology and biology. As a major scientific overview of the entirety of Planet Earth, the intention is to only present key concepts that will enhance, enrich, and engage the readers interest in Earth Sciences. It is intended to make any reader, such as yourself, at least a little more knowledgeable of the amazing place that we all live within.
Purpose of Writing an Open Text and What that Means
All of the text and modules of the Planet Earth course are offered under a Creative Commons with Attributions license, which means that you are free to share and redistribute the material in any medium or format, and adapt remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially. Just be sure to attribute the text with the authors name and course name, and indicate where you found the information. The purpose of making this text free to disseminate is that it contains valuable information that you should feel free to share and discuss as widely as possible. Science adapts to new knowledge, and as such this text can be updated and modified as new discoveries are made. An open text also ensures that the knowledge remains affordable to the average student such as yourself. Feel free to pass on the information that you learn in this course and you are free to make printed copies. The referenced text is available as a Wikibook, on the Wikipedia Website.
About the Author
Benjamin J. Burger is a geologist who earned his Masters of Science degree in 1999 at Stony Brook University in New York and Doctorate in 2009 at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and spent five years working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He has also worked as a professional geologist in the states of Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. He joined the Utah State University faculty in 2011 and continues to teach and conduct research as an Associate Professor in the Department of Geoscience at the Uintah Basin – Vernal Campus of Utah State University located in northeastern corner of Utah. Many of his course lectures and educational content can be found on YouTube or on his website at www.benjamin-burger.org
About this textbook
This book was written with the support of a grant offered by Utah State University Libraries, Academic & Instructional Services and College of Science to support faculty and instructors at Utah State University—State Wide Campuses to create Open Educational Resources to support their online courses in the United States of America. These grants are made to reduce barriers to student success, as well as to encourage faculty and instructors to try new, high-quality, and lower cost ways to deliver learning materials to students through Open Educational Resources.
The majority of the first edition of the textbook was written between 2019 and 2020, with the intention that the textbook to be offered free of charge to all participants in GEO 1360 Planet Earth, an online course offered at Utah State University. As an Open Educational Resource this textbook if offered for any faculty, instructor, or teacher to adopt for their own courses they teach, and is distributed under a Creative Commons License. If you notice any errors or mistakes please contact the author.
Hyperlinks will be referenced throughout the text to encourage further reading on any particular topic, most of these will point toward a Wikipedia article or an original scientific publication. These referenced hyperlinks will follow a similar style and format as seen in the popular Wikipedia website, where sources of specific information can be referenced and verified with a simple link. Every attempt was made to ensure the referenced external links that you will find within the modules are verified in print and online sources, including peer-reviewed scientific papers, publications of scientific societies, government organizations, and mainstream news organizations. There is no guarantee these external links will remain available online or whether they will be archived for future assessing electronically in the future. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that your university or college will have a subscription to the article to view online. However, most of these external references should be accessible to you if you wish to explore a topic more in-depth than provided in the text, especially many of the Wikipedia entries. Only information covered within the text of this course will be used on quizzes and exams, as the reference hyperlinks serve to support statements and data within the main body of this course. You are not responsible for information that exists outside of this course on external webpages.
Vocabulary and Glossary of Terms
Important scientific terms will be in bold print, and may have a hyperlink to a clear definition of that term. These terms should be defined in your notes, as they will likely be referenced in quiz and exam questions. Use of flashcards with the term and its definition might be an important study tool for the exams.
Table of Contents
Section 1: EARTH’S SIZE, SHAPE, AND MOTION IN SPACE
- a. Science: How do we Know What We Know.
- b. Earth System Science: Gaia or Medea?
- c. Measuring the Size and Shape of Earth.
- d. How to Navigate Across Earth using a Compass, Sexton, and Timepiece.
- e. Earth's Motion and Spin.
- f. The Nature of Time: Solar, Lunar and Stellar Calendars.
- g. Coriolis Effect: How Earth’s Spin Effects Motion Across its Surface.
- h. Milankovitch cycles: Oscillations in Earth’s Spin and Rotation.
- i. Time: The Invention of Seconds using Earth’s Motion.
Section 2: EARTH’S ENERGY
- a. What is Energy and the Laws of Thermodynamics?
- b. Solar Energy.
- c. Electromagnetic Radiation and Black Body Radiators.
- d. Daisy World and the Solar Energy Cycle.
- e. Other Sources of Energy: Gravity, Tides, and the Geothermal Gradient.
Section 3: EARTH’S MATTER
- a. Gas, Liquid, Solid (and other states of matter).
- b. Atoms: Electrons, Protons and Neutrons.
- c. The Chart of the Nuclides.
- d. Radiometric dating, using chemistry to tell time.
- e. The Periodic Table and Electron Orbitals.
- f. Chemical Bonds (Ionic, Covalent, and others means to bring atoms together).
- g. Common Inorganic Chemical Molecules of Earth.
- h. Mass spectrometers, X-Ray Diffraction, Chromatography and Other Methods to Determine Which Elements are in Things.
Section 4: EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE
- a. The Air You Breath.
- b. Oxygen in the Atmosphere.
- c. Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere.
- d. Green House Gases.
- e. Blaise Pascal and his Barometer.
- f. Why are Mountain Tops Cold?
- g. What are Clouds?
- h. What Makes Wind?
- i. Global Atmospheric Circulation.
- j. Storm Tracking.
- k. The Science of Weather Forecasting.
- l. Earth’s Climate and How it Has Changed.
Section 5: EARTH’S WATER
- a. H2O: A Miraculous Gas, Liquid and Solid on Earth.
- b. Properties of Earth’s Water (Density, Salinity, Oxygen, and Carbonic Acid).
- c. Earth’s Oceans (Warehouses of Water).
- d. Surface Ocean Circulation.
- e. Deep Ocean Circulation.
- f. La Nina and El Nino, the sloshing of the Pacific Ocean.
- g. Earth's Rivers.
- h. Earth’s Endangered Lakes and the Limits of Freshwater Sources.
- i. Earth’s Ice: Glaciers, Ice Sheets, and Sea Ice.
Section 6: EARTH’S SOLID INTERIOR
- a. Journey to the Center of the Earth: Earth’s Interior and Core.
- b. Plate Tectonics: You are a Crazy Man, Alfred Wegener.
- c. Earth’s Volcanoes, When Earth Goes Boom!
- d. You Can’t Fake an Earthquake: How to Read a Seismograph.
- e. The Rock Cycle and Rock Types (Igneous, Metamorphic and Sedimentary).
- f. Mineral Identification of Hand Samples.
- g. Common Rock Identification.
- h. Bowen’s Reaction Series.
- i. Earth’s Surface Processes: Sedimentary Rocks and Depositional Environments.
- j. Earth’s History Preserved in its Rocks: Stratigraphy and Geologic Time.
Section 7: EARTH’S LIFE
- a. How Rare is Life in the Universe?
- b. What is Life?
- c. How did Life Originate?
- d. The Origin of Sex.
- e. Darwin and the Struggle for Existence.
- f. Gregor Mendel’s Game of Cards: Heredity.
- g. Earth's Biomes and Communities.
- h. Soil: Living Dirt.
- i. Earth’s Ecology: Food Webs and Populations.
Section 8: EARTH’S HUMANS
- a. Ötzi’s World or What Sustainably Looks Like.
- b. American Mineral Baby: Rise of Human Consumerism.
- c. The Sixth Extinction: Animal and Plant Extinction.
- d. Tragedy of the Commons: Why Cheaters Always Win.
- e. Plastic Planet.
- f. Peak Oil: Petroleum a Limited Resource.
- g. Land Use: Conservation verses Preservation.
- h. The Human Population Explosion.
- i. Using Satellite Imagery to Forecast Urban Growth.
Section 9: EARTH’S FUTURE
- a. A Global Warning.
- b. Will We have Enough to Eat?
- c. A New Geologic Age? The Anthropocene or Anthropozoic.
- d. Public Spaces: The Importance of Parks and Open Space.
- e. Rewilding: A solution to extinction?
- f. Wind and Solar: A solution to hydrocarbon usage?
- g. The Final Days of Combustion Engines.
- h. Edible and Bio Packaging: A Solution to Plastic?
- i. What Drives Energy to be Efficient?
- j. How to Think Critically and Fight Propaganda.