Earth Science Week Classroom Activities

Systems in Earth Science

Activity Source:

Adapted with permission by SEED (Schlumberger Excellence in Educational Development).

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.
For example, the water cycle represents a system. A part that is often neglected is groundwater. How might groundwater interact with the water cycle? The atmosphere itself is a system that affects the temperature of Earth. How might this system give rise to the greenhouse effect, and contribute to global warming? With better awareness of Earth systems, you can attain a greater understanding of the world.


  • Computer with Internet access
  • Word-processing computer and/or pen and lined paper


1. You will conduct a “systems audit” for various Earth systems you will encounter on the PlanetSEED web site. First, write a paragraph of up to 200 words describing what a system is. You might start by thinking of a fairly simple system, such as building heating or cooling system, and then answering key questions:

  • What are the functional parts of the system?
  • How are the parts related? That is, which parts respond to changes in other parts? How do parts change?
  • Are there any feedback mechanisms in the system? (Feedback provides information to the system to help it reach a target state, or to increase or decrease activity.)
  • What are the inputs and the outputs of the system?

2. Online, find SEED’s web page for the Earth sciences theme ([ earth- sciences]( sciences)). Read the listings of activities, experiments, articles, and learning resources for an overview of information available. Click on a few links to explore the resources.

3. Select an activity or experiment link of interest, click on it, and conduct a “systems audit” of the resource. Consider: How is this resource like a system? Write up to 200 words addressing the same questions you did in Step 1 (see above).

4. Discuss your results with classmates: What resource did you choose? How is that resource like a system? How might your selected Earth system interact with a different system chosen by a classmate?

Additional Resources systems-thinking

  • SEED offers a theme focusing on systems thinking, a more general approach to systems. This resource includes links to further systems resources.

  • The SEED Earth Science Week Spanish Resources, a partnership of SEED and Earth Science Week, features more than 70 free lessons, posters, fact sheets and other materials in both Spanish and English.