As humans, we experience the effects of chemistry, biology and physics every day, but not always knowingly. For this reason, geology and ecology are to me the most visual–even the most sensual–of the hard sciences, the ones that allows us to better understand our immediate environment.
Geology isn’t theory and microscopes; it’s what we see around us every day.
Sometimes, it’s hard to mentally separate geology and ecology. Here’s the short version: geology is the study of all the stuff on the earth, and ecology is the study of the way living things interact with it.
Add: The elements of the earth’s crust (oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium). The parts of the earth (crust—oceanic and continental; mantle—litho-sphere and asthenosphere; outer core; inner core). Types of clouds.
Layers of the earth: The four distinct parts of the earth, which include: the outer crust (oceans and tectonic plates), the mantle (rock), the outer core (extremely hot liquid metal), and the inner core (solid metal).
Rock: A collection of various minerals formed together into a hard mass. Common rocks include: limestone, shale, sandstone, granite, marble, basalt, obsidian, coal, quartz, conglomerate and chalk. Rocks are not made of single minerals or elements, but are compounds of several different minerals.
Mineral: A single material of uniform color, texture, luster and structure. It is usually made up of two or more elements.
Ore: Any natural, earth material that is mined and processed to obtain a desired metal. An example is iron ore, which is rock that contains iron.
Crystal: A mineral whose molecules are arranged in a highly regular pattern, which results in a characteristic shape. Some example of crystals are: table salt, graphite, ice and quartz.
Dirt versus soil: Dirt is a mixture of minerals and organic substances that have been broken down through weathering, animal digestion and more, while soil is dirt that is fit to grow plants in
Sediment: The dirt and sand that is carried away with water and wind and deposited in other places in layers. These layers separate according to the size and density of the materials and eventually harden into rock under the sea and elsewhere.
Fossil: The remains of organisms after those organisms are buried under layers of sediment and pressed upon for many years. Some fossils are rocks that show imprints of organic material that has eroded away. Other fossils are the actual remains of the organism, such as bone, or remains that have slowly become petrified (mineralized and turned into rock).
Clay: A kind of dirt that contains very small particles, which result in a soft, uniform, well-mixed substance. Clay soil (soil with a higher-than-average amount of clay in it) holds water well and is good for farming.
The three types of rocks: Sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic
Sedimentary rock: Rock formed when other rocks break down into sediment, then gradually reform other rocks due to pressure and layering. The Grand Canyon is an example of sedimentary rock. Its layers are visible.
Igneous rock: Rock formed from magma that erupted from a volcano, then cooled into layers and chunks
Metamorphic rock: Igneous, sedimentary or other metamorphic rock that has undergone significant changes due to heat
Geological time: A perspective of the history of the earth that divides it into periods based on the types of fossils found in the various layers of the earth’s crust
Radiometric/carbon dating: A scientific, though inexact, method for determining the age of a rock by the amount of carbon it still contains
Water: The most common liquid on earth, whose chemical formula is H2O. It is a solvent that is formed when hydrogen burns in air (oxygen).
The water cycle: The process by which water is continuously recycled between the earth, the atmosphere and living things through heat and evaporation and clouds and rain
The carbon cycle: The process by which carbon cycles through plants, animals, the soil and the atmosphere. This happens mostly due to the respiration of carbon dioxide by animals, the incorporation of carbon dioxide by plants during photosynthesis, decomposition and the burning of fossil fuels.
The nitrogen cycle: The process by which nitrogen cycles through plants, animals, the soil and the atmosphere. When the nitrogen cycle is not in balance, global warming and ozone depletion can occur.
Tides: The rise and fall of sea levels caused by the gravity of the moon and the rotation of the earth
Ocean currents: The movement of the water of the world’s oceans due to wind, the rotation of the earth and more
Groundwater: Water under the Earth’s surface. Most groundwater is found in porous rocks.
The water table: The depth at which groundwater is found, which is affected by rainfall or lack thereof
Air: The gas mixture that we breathe and that makes up the earth’s atmosphere. Air is made up of oxygen (21 percent), nitrogen (78 percent) and other gases, including carbon dioxide (1 percent). It helps plants make food; protects people from UV rays; and helps people obtain oxygen, which is an important component of human blood. The gases in air can be separated out by cooling and compressing the air. Each gas liquifies at a different temperature, allowing for separation.
Earth’s atmosphere: All of the air that surrounds the earth. It is held near the earth due to gravity. There is no distinct endpoint of this region, but instead a gradual decline into airlessness. This is because the gravitational pull on the higher air particles is gradually reduced. Higher air is thinner, with less oxygen, and unbreathable. (Side note: The moon’s gravitational pull isn’t strong enough to hold air down, which is why there is no air or similar gaseous atmosphere on the moon.)
Air pressure: A measurement of the closeness of the particles of air in a particular space. High-pressure air naturally expands into low-pressure air spaces due to its energy and momentum. (Side note: The eardrum in the human ear must have equal pressure on both sides; however, air has to move through a bottleneck and, during quick changes in atmospheric pressure, can move unevenly, resulting in what is known as “ear popping.”)
Earthquake: A sudden shaking of the surface of the earth due to tectonic plate shifts
Seismic activity: The sum of all of the tremors and earthquakes in a region
Tectonic plate: The plates that make up Earth’s crust, whose movement is driven by movements deep in the earth
Fault line: The deep cracks in Earth’s crust that make those areas vulnerable to extreme movement when earthquakes strike
Subduction zone: An area where two plates have collided, causing one plate to slide below the other
Volcano: Vents (openings) in the ground from which magma (molten rock), ash, gas, and rock fragments surge upwards, in an event called an eruption. They are often found at boundaries between the plates in Earth’s crust.
BASIC ECOLOGY AND METEOROLOGY
Ecology: The study of the way living things interact with their environments
Ecosystem: A group of plants and animals that interact with each other and their surroundings
Biome: A climate and soil type that is unique to a particular region of the earth
The eleven biomes of Earth: Tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, mountains, coniferous forests, scrub lands, temperate grasslands/prairies, tundra, tropical grasslands, deserts, polar areas and oceans
Biodiversity: The huge variety of living things in a particular area. Biodiversity is lost with selective breeding.
Renewable energy: Energy derived from renewable resources
Renewable resource: A natural resource that renews itself fast enough to keep up with human rates of use. These include sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat.
Non-renewable resource: A natural resource that does not renew itself fast enough to keep up with human rates of use. These include minerals, metal ores, fossil fuels (coal, petroleum and natural gas) and some groundwater.
Fossil fuel: A fuel that forms deep under the earth from the remains of decomposed animals and plants. Examples are coal, petroleum and natural gas. Fossil fuels are considered non-renewable because it takes millions of years for them to complete one cycle of formation.
The Ozone Layer: The layer of ozone (O3) that exists in the upper atmosphere of earth. It is poisonous to humans when inhaled but, at a distance, protects us from UV rays.
The Greenhouse Effect: The result of an overabundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which traps heat and causes a greenhouse-like effect on Earth, warming oceans and air and, in turn, causing significant climate change
Global warming: A slow warming of the earth resulting from the Greenhouse Effect
Biodegradable: The ability of a substance to be decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms in its environment
Erosion: The breakdown of minerals, rocks and organic materials through freezing, thawing, melting, abrasion, wind, acids and more. This is also called weathering. Erosion of soil lowers soil quality since topsoil is richest in nutrients.
Waterlogged: Oversaturated with water. Water-holding capacity is better for rich soil but poorer for sandy soil.
Aeration: The air flow to plant roots. Roots need oxygen, though plants take in CO2 and give off oxygen. Leaves transport sugar but can’t transport oxygen.
Drought: An extended dry period
Intensive farming: Farming with the help of chemicals, technology, high-output machinery and the like
Soil management: Maintaining proper balance of soil nutrients, airflow and water in soil
Soil conservation: Erosion prevention
Crop rotation: Rotating crops in order to balance the mineral levels in the soil since plants use and add different amounts of various minerals as they grow
Weather versus climate: Weather is the atmospheric conditions caused by changing air pressure and heat from the sun, while climate is the long-term weather conditions of a particular area
The four basic climate types: Tropical (hot all year); polar (cold all year); temperate (moderate, seasonal change); deserts (dry all year).
Wind: The movement of air that happens when higher pressure air is moving toward lower pressure air. If there is no pressure difference, there is no wind.
Storm: Any disruption in the atmosphere producing severe weather, including strong wind, tornadoes, hail, rain, snow (blizzard), lightning (thunderstorm), clouds of dust or sand carried by wind (a dust or sand storm)
Lightning: The visible and audible flow of electricity that occurs during a thunderstorm. It can occur inside a single cloud, between clouds, or between a cloud and the ground. It produces an audible booming sound called thunder. Since the speed of light is greater than the speed of sound, we hear thunder after we see lightning.
Tornado: A funnel-shaped column of wind, evaporated water, dust and debris that moves rapidly, sweeping up objects in its path. It is formed when a thunderstorm occurs in areas of both cold and warm air.
Hurricane: A group of thunderstorms that have formed in close proximity over the ocean, then collided to create a cyclone–a spiral-shaped movement of wind with a low-pressure center. Hurricanes are also called typhoons, cyclones and tropical storms.
Tsunami: A series of huge, destructive waves formed during major events like hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, meteorite crashes and earthquakes. Tsunamis are sometimes mistakenly called tidal waves.
Atmospheric particle/particulate: Microscopic solid or liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere. Some are organic and others are human-made.
Barometer: A tool to measure air pressure
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