The Physical Environment
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Chapter 2
The Earth System

Buffalo on Wetland

Buffalo on Wetland
(Courtesy USFWS)

The Earth system is a complex interaction between its subsystems the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere. The Earth system around us today is the result of millions of years of evolutionary processes tending toward a stable equilibrium. At times, assaults from within and outside have stressed the system and forced changes. Here you will explore the types of systems found on Earth and the sources of energy that drive them.

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the chapter you should be able to:

  • Explain the origin and shape of the Earth.
  • Explain how the Earth's orientation to and revolution around the Sun cause seasons.
  • Describe the basic features of the continents and oceans.
  • Explain how earth "spheres" interact with one another within the Earth system.
  • Explain how natural systems are regulated by feedback.
  • Demonstrate through the use of a flow chart how positive and negative feedback effect system change.
  • Compare and contrast, and provide examples of open and closed systems.
  • Draw a simple diagram of the nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and hydrologic cycles.
  • Compare and contrast, and give examples of endogenic and exogenic sources of energy.
  • Explain how feedbacks drive global warming and climate change.

See if you are prepared for this chapter by Getting Ready for Chapter 2: Earth Systems.

You may view a list of chapter topics by clicking the "Topic Outline" link or go directly to the first topic by clicking "Continue".

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For Citation: Ritter, Michael E. The Physical Environment: an Introduction to Physical Geography.
Date visited.

2003 - 2014 Michael Ritter (
Last revised 6/5/12

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