Systems in Earth Science

What systems can you find within the Earth sciences? How do they work? How do they interact with each other? Within its new online Earth sciences theme, SEED has collected articles, activities, animations, and simulations to highlight the many systems of Earth.

Temperature and Precipitation Connections

No matter where we are on Earth, we can observe changes in vegetation. Some changes are drastic, such as going from dormant to full growth during a temperate winter.

Vegetative growth is dependent on both surface temperature (which influences soil temperature) and precipitation (which influences soil moisture). Together these environmental variables help determine the beginning, duration, and end of the growing season; the latter marked by leaf senescence, when leaves of deciduous trees die and turn colors.

The EarthTrek Gravestone Project

The Gravestone Project, part of the global citizen science program called EarthTrek (www.goearthtrek.com), is seeking volunteers to visit cemeteries around the world and collect scientific data on how marble gravestones are weathering.

The Great Ocean Conveyor

Learn about ocean currents and systems in this activity from NOAA.

Tracking Dinosaurs

Paleontologists are the geoscientists who discover and study fossil evidence of past life. Sometimes they even find the footprints of dinosaurs that roamed the surface of the Earth long ago. Ever wonder how paleontologists are able to determine, based on fossil evidence, whether a particular dinosaur was walking or running when it left footprints behind? These two activities will help you to learn how these scientists can do that.

Understanding Paleoclimate

Climate scientists study evidence in the geologic record, such as fossils, to figure out what climate was like over hundreds of thousands of years (“paleoclimate”). One fossil they use is pollen, a part of a flowering plant that helps make a seed. Pollen can be blown into lakes, where it is preserved in sediment. Pollen from spruces, which do well in cold climates, can suggest what climate was like when spruce pollen was deposited.

Water Filtration

Each group will design a water filtration system and present to the class, why they picked their design.

What Will Survive?

Archaeological remains include artifacts (portable) and features (non-portable) made and used by humans. Archaeologists use these objects to understand how ancient people lived. How well archaeological remains survive depends on the materials they were made of, the ways they were used, the manner in which they were discarded, and the environment in which they were deposited. Organic remains generally decay in a short time unless preserved in special conditions.

What's Down There?

To learn about sedimentary rock layers that we cannot see, geoscientists drill and bring up core samples of rock layers. Information from core samples, combined with that from other imaging techniques, allows geoscientists to map the depth and thickness of sedimentary rock layers below the surface. This activity will help you understand what's beneath the Earth's surface.


Water moves from Earth’s surface to the atmosphere and then returns to the surface. This process is nearly always depicted in water cycle diagrams by arrows drawn in a circular direction.

However, the actual path water may take in its cycle is far more complicated. In this activity, you will discover multiple cycles by acting as water molecules and traveling through parts of the overall water cycle. In the end, your water cycle will look nothing like the conceptual model but will represent a more realistic cycle.


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