2015-2016 EAR203 Earth Systems Science Summer Assignment
Welcome to SUPA Earth Systems Science! I’m looking forward to working with you and sharing my
passion for learning about our Earth's systems with you.
Prerequisite Skills
Earth System Science (EAR 203) is recommended for students who wish to pursue a major or
minor program in environmental or earth science, whether from the physical, biological, or engineering
perspective. It is also appropriate for students with a strong science background who plan to major in
a non-science discipline and seek a course that will fulfill general education requirements.
While it is desirable, no prior Earth Science course/instruction is required. A general, basic
understanding of math and algebra, including an understanding of decimals, exponents, logarithms,
quadratics, and algebraic equations, is essential to success in this course (calculus is not required).
Basic understanding of physical, chemical, and biological processes and principles are likewise highly
desirable, but not absolutely required.
Course Description
Earth System Science (EAR 203) illustrates the interconnectedness of biologic, hydrologic,
atmospheric, and geologic processes in shaping our planet. This approach reflects a more integrated
view toward the study of Earth. In today’s world, with increasing global population, the threat of
global warming, and a growing demand for raw materials and energy, a basic understanding of the
Earth system is more important than ever.
The Earth consists of interconnected and synergistic series of feedbacks, processes, and
geological mechanisms that operate across a wide array of scales in vastly different environments. The
interplay between these components determines the shape of the continents, the location of key
resources, the behavior of the climate and weather, the availability of fresh water and arable land, and
just about everything else that our culture and society require to operate. Biological, chemical,
physical and geological/cosmological systems are all controlling factors in the behavior of our planet
over short and long time scales, and over atomic to planetary spatial scales. Understanding this
integrated “system of systems” is key to understanding both basic academic, curiosity-driven
questions, and to understanding our sources of energy, where our waste goes, and where our
resources come from. This class is designed to give you a solid grounding in understanding the Earth
System from a systems perspective. Rather than focusing on specific sub-disciplines and detail, the
class will focus on providing a basis for understanding mechanisms, feedbacks, and larger scale cycling
of energy and material throughout the Earth’s various spheres: Atmosphere, Biosphere, Cryosphere,
Exosphere (which includes space), Geosphere, and Hydrosphere.
Assignment #1:
Write a brief, one paragraph description of Earth’s systems: atmosphere, biosphere,
cryosphere, exosphere (including space), geosphere, and hydrosphere. Then, for each system, find one
article from a newspaper, scientific magazine, or online that relates to one of these Earth systems.
Google Scholar is a good place to start. You only need one article per system; however, you do need to
have all six systems represented. READ THE ARTICLE – I will know that you have read the article by
observing what you have underlined or highlighted. Please attach the appropriate article to the
paragraph description you have written.
Assignment #2:
Obtain a copy of Gaia, a new look at life on Earth by James Lovelock (1995). Read the book
and then write a well-thought-out reflection of the following:
1. The Gaia Hypothesis proposes that our planet functions as a single organism that maintains
conditions necessary for its survival. Formulated by James Lovelock in the mid-1960s and originally
published in 1979, this controversial idea has spawned several interesting theories and many new
areas of research. While this hypothesis is by no means substantiated, it provides many useful lessons
about the interaction of physical, chemical, geological, and biological processes on Earth. After reading
this book, what are your personal observations regarding Earth as an interacting system? Be specific.
Use examples from the book and from your own experience or knowledge to substantiate your
2. For us as individuals, the concept of Gaia can pose some challenging questions about our
relationship to other humans as well as all life on the planet. If you and I are more like the cells in a
larger organism than independent individuals, where should our responsibilities lie? Should we serve
ourselves first, or should we first consider the greater body that we are a part of? What should be our
relationship to other living parts of this greater body? In terms of this larger, older, wiser organism of
which we may be a part, are we good for Gaia or are we some sort of blight that will be forgotten over
Your reflection must be neatly written or typed, and should be of sufficient length to indicate
that you have in fact read the book and thought about the possibility of Earth being a single organism.
Assignment #3:
In late August, download the course syllabus from my faculty page. Bring the syllabus and
signed Student Contract with you on the first day of class.
Have a great summer. I am looking forward to exploring the Earth System with you! Please feel free to
e-mail me ([email protected]) if you have any questions.
Sincerely Ms. Ziegler