Earth's Fluid Spheres
The three fluid spheres covered in this module are the oceans, the
atmosphere, and the cryosphere (glaciers). This module is not a complete
review of oceanography, meteorology, and glaciology, but rather each
chapter addresses an event or process, which occurs in each of the spheres.
Activities and background text enable students to understand the complex
processes involved in each event. In the first chapter, students examine
El Nino, an event that occurs in the Equatorial Pacific. In the second
chapter, students examine the evolution of a thunderstorm and associated
weather phenomena. In the last chapter, students examine the effects
on the world’s glaciers in the event of a global temperature increase.
The order in which chapters are presented is based on the hydrologic
cycle. The pathway of water as it moves from the oceans into the atmosphere
and back to the Earth in the form of precipitation (snow) reinforces
the cyclic nature of the hydrologic cycle.
Through their inquiry in this module, students develop understandings
of the complex Earth systems interactions associated with the Earth’s
oceans, atmosphere, and cryosphere. The major themes addressed include
the following: portions of the National Science Content Standards for
- Energy and matter flows between the three spheres producing changes
- Since both short-term and long-term cyclic change occurs in each
sphere, predictions can be made of future occurrences.
- The predominant source of energy the drives change in of the spheres
is the sun.
- Patterns of circulation and movement can be established in each
- The physical properties of the fluids, air, water, and ice, affect
the movement within each sphere.
- A change in any of the three spheres can lead to dramatic and or
catastrophic change to society however by understanding how each sphere
operates can leads to wise decisions.
and Your Community
The Chapter Challenge for Oceans and Your Community is for students
to prepare a report that will help their community leaders decide whether
or not they should host a conference on preparing for El Nino events.
Students begin the chapter with a review of the basics of ocean circulation
by looking at wind and Coriolis forces as the driving mechanisms of
surface ocean circulation and temperature and salinity as the driving
mechanisms of deep ocean circulation. Students then examine the patterns
of surface ocean currents and winds and look for variations between
"normal" and "El Nino" years. Students look at sea
surface temperature data during “normal” and “El Nino”
years and make inferences on how El Nino events impact the ocean food
chain, global climate, and specifically, their community.
Weather and Your Community
The Chapter Challenge for Severe Weather and Your Community is for students
to prepare a report evaluating the potential for severe weather in their
community, which will be submitted to an entertainment company who is
considering building an arena with a retractable roof in the community.
Students are introduced to severe weather through the study of thunderstorms.
Students learn the conditions necessary to create thunderstorms and
learn how thunderstorm clouds develop and mature. Students examine the
techniques used by meteorologists to track thunderstorms. Students then
move on to the study causes of hazards associated with severe weather,
specifically flash flooding, lightning, and high winds and tornadoes.
and Your Community
This chapter provides students the opportunity to explore the effects
of ice on the world around them. The focus in this chapter is on the
effects of glaciers in their communities in the past, present, and the
future. Students explore the properties of ice, study the relationships
between climate, glaciers and sea level changes, and discover how glaciers
interact with the geosphere to form various landscapes. Students also
examine non-glacial components of the cryosphere, including ice in the
atmosphere and non-glacial ice on the Earth’s surface. Students
will use this information to assess how changes within the cryosphere
caused by a shift in the global climate could effect their community.
Students will conclude the chapter by preparing an informational video
explaining the effects of glaciation.