Earth Systems Science

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EAS 217 Systems Analysis of the Earth

Earth Systems Science

Course: EAS 21700

Course title: Systems Analysis of the Earth

Designation: Required course

Catalog Description: Analysis and modeling of the grand cycles and systems in the Earth Sciences including plate tectonics and climate change by incorporating the underlying physical, chemical and biological principles. Physical and chemical properties of earth materials are examined. Excel and PowerPoint are all used extensively.

Prerequisites: EAS 10600 or 21300, Physics 20300 or Chemistry 10300 or equivalent.

Co-requisites: Sci 20000

Hours/Credits: 5 hours per week, 4 cr.; 3 hr. lect, and 2 hr. lab;

Lectures includes group discussion guided by the instructor on assigned readings.

Class sessions: Tu,Th 2:00 – 4:05 pm, room MR/105

Note that attendance is required and will be taken throughout the semester.

Instructor: Prof. Federica Raia – Room MR 923 – phone (212) 650-6466

Office Hours: 2:00-3:00 on Monday and 11:00-12:00 on Thursday and at other times by appointment.


(1) This Dynamic Earth, The Story of Plate Tectonics, by W. Jacqueline Kious and Robert I. Tilling, U.S. Geological Survey. On line: or for sale (7.00 $) from USGS

(2) The Earth System: An Introduction to Earth Systems Science 2nd Ed. Lee R. Kump, James F. Kasting, and Robert Crane, 1999 Prentice-Hall: Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 351 pp. On reserve in the library.

(3) Blue Planet An Introduction To Earth System Science, Skinner, Brian, New York : John Wiley, c1995., - Science Library Reserve

Call Number QB631 .S57 1995

(4) Earth Portrait of a Planet 2nd Ed. Marshak, Stephen - Science Library Reserve Call number QE 26.2 M 365 2001.

(5) Earth's Dynamic Systems, Hamblin W. Kenneth, - Science Library Reserve Call number QE 28.2 H 35 2001.

(6) Supplementary reading is hand out in class and/or posted on blackboard.

Course objectives:

This course is the second of a two semester Earth Systems Science sequence and it is designed to provide an integrated view of the Earth as a system of many interacting parts and focuses on the changes within and between these parts. A particular attention will be given learning how to perform research in the geosciences by taking a problem-oriented approach in Earth Systems Science. The two components (lecture, laboratory) are integrated to provide a comprehensive and thorough introduction to the principles Earth System Science and its application. The laboratory component introduces students to conduct research utilizing Earth Systems Science international databases to: evaluate evidence, propose hypotheses, and design experiments/investigation to evaluate them. Part of the lectures will be focusing on discussing current understanding and shortcomings of research in the field of Earth System Science.

After completing this course, students should be able to:

1-Learn how to conduct scientific investigations:

Scientific Reasoning

  • Distinguish observation from inference and construct a consistent chain of reasoning that leads from observation to inferences

  • Identify and articulate assumptions

  • Formulate a research question

  • Formulate testable hypotheses

Data Collection and Manipulation

  • Design an investigation or an experiment to test an hypothesis including :a) deciding what data are necessary to be collected and b) deciding how the data will be collected

  • Identify and describe potential source of error in data collected

  • Design and use data tables to record data

  • Design and use graphs to display data

  • Choose the best way to assemble as wells as present data (type of graphs, tables, etc.)

  • Describe any relationships observed between variables

  • Recognize and describe patterns and trends in various data display (spatial data on a map, contour plots, histograms, etc)

Data Interpretation

  • Explain the mechanisms underlying experimental results and /or underlying their predictions

  • Interpret and criticize experimental data

  • Recognize and describe limitations of the study

  • Use the concepts of evolutionary cycles vs. cyclicity in the description and interpretation of temporal data sets

  • Calculate differences between two data sets, and describe the patterns and trends in the difference

Communicate effectively

  • Present the findings in an order that best represents the data:  chronological order, order of importance, order of generality, etc. (students tend to use only a chronological order related to when they obtained, find or learn about them)

  • Share in a brief oral presentation part of their data just collected with other students using appropriate professional vocabulary

  • Make a consistent and comprehensive oral presentation of their scientific investigations using appropriate professional vocabulary

  • Design and write a scientific paper (please refer to the rubric attached)

Research Design

  • Apply Scientific reasoning (above) to design an investigation or an experiment to test an Hypothesis

  • formulate a strategy and write a proposal for answering a new research question

  • Find specific information in the primary and reference geoscience literature

Work as part of a problem solving team to design and conduct research.

2 Communicate effectively in science

  • Present the findings in an order that best represents the data:  chronological order, order of importance, order of generality, etc. (students tend to use only a chronological order related to when they obtained, find or learn about them)

  • Share in a brief oral presentation part of their data just collected with other students using appropriate professional vocabulary

  • Make a consistent and comprehensive oral presentation of their scientific investigations using appropriate professional vocabulary

  • Design and write a scientific paper

  • Discuss primary and reference geoscience literature

3.Recognize the importance of multidisciplinary focus to understand the connections, interactions and feedbacks between the system components: atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, biosphere.

  • Use the concepts of negative and positive feedback in describing earth systems

  • Identify a systems its components, sublevels and the causal interactions among components and among levels

  • Given a description of an earth system, predict: a) the nature of the feedback loops that might develop b) whether two variables will be positively or negatively correlated c) whether something will change linearly, exponentially, or not at all over time c) figure out whether a process is unidirectional, cyclical, or evolutionary cyclical d) break down it down conceptually into a network of sources, sinks and reservoirs

  • Draw a flowchart showing fluxes within a system of sources, sinks and reservoirs

  • Integrated in the description of Earth processes fundamental physical phenomena (mass, heat, gravity, buoyancy, density, etc.)

  • Describe earth processes in terms of deterministic, probabilistic, and evolutionary processes

Topics covered:

Building Models -Plate Tectonics Model

Defining Plates boundaries

Validation of Model, Assumptions and evidences

Earth System analysis – Aggregate and agent based systems models

Earthquakes as emergent phenomena

Energy transfer – Earth’s dissipative structures

The Astenosphere –lithosphere complex interaction –self organization

Fractal organization - Cyclic Systems vs. Evolutionary systems

Complex Interactions among Hydrosphere - Atmosphere – Biosphere

The Silica Cycle, The Carbon Cycle

The Nitrogen Cycle, The Water Cycles

Building the grand Cycles of the Earth and Climate implication

Assessment tools:

Description of Course activities

In Class Presentations: Students will be asked to give at least 3 in class 15 minutes presentation They will present to the class the investigation their are conducting before turning in the investigation report (please refer to Assignments section – Investigation Report –for more details) describe the research question they are investigating, the methods used and the preliminary results. These short presentations will help students organize their thoughts in a more structured way and provide feedback from their instructor and peers about their work. When students are not giving a presentation they will evaluate the presentation of their peers to help them modify and enhance their work, according to according to criteria discussed in class.


There will be 2 types: investigation (or lab) reports, and homework. The specific assignment will be announced in class each week. They will be collected electronically and subsequently graded. Late homework will receive no credit.

Investigation Reports

Investigations in class are an extremely important and helpful part of the course in that they require students to think in depth and detail about course material on a regular basis. After carefully taking notes during the investigation, students are asked to write their notes and data in a structured way, eventually posing some new questions and reflecting on their own work

A detailed description of the structure for completing this assignment will be distributed in class. 


Homework for a given week is due one week after the topic was introduced. Each question should be answered on a separate sheet, and should include your name. In addition to necessary graphs and maps, your answers should include at least one paragraph of explanation. You should also reference all sources of information that you used in formulating your answer.

Group Work Project: Students will work in groups and their active participation is expected.

In class, we will generate a series of questions around key topics concerning Earth System Science. Students will be asked to explore one of the questions as part of a collaborative group investigation. Part of several class sessions will be used for initial group efforts to share information, develop additional questions and resources, and discuss with the instructor to their work. Each group member will evaluate the others’ participation and contribution to the group work via evaluation sheets handout in class.

A detailed description of the structure for completing this assignment will be distributed in class

Pre-test: There will be pretests-questions at the beginning of new topics. They will be not graded, but utilized to assess pre-knowledge and understanding of topics, in order to facilitate the instructor understanding of possible misconception to be addressed. They will be discussed with the students after the topic had been covered and addressed. Students grades will not be affected by the pre-tests.

Exams: There will be a midterm (date TBA) and a final (date TBA).

Course Grade: The final grade for the course will be based on students’ performance on exams, assignments, and attendance/participation in class. Successful completion of ALL of the requirements is necessary in order to successfully pass the course.

All readings and papers will be submitted on time. Papers may be revised and resubmitted during the term with the instructor’s permission and only one time. Students grade for this course will include work in the following areas:

•Investigation reports (or lab reports) 40% of the grade.

•The group investigation activity, case study, and class presentation constitute 15% of the grade.

•In Class participation, short presentations and activities constitute 10% of the final grade.

• Mid Term 15 % of the grade

• Final 15 % of the grade.

Computers will be used extensively, and each class member is expected to have access to a computer and a service provider to the Internet. There are computers available in school.

The following is a description of the software used and their purpose.




Internet Explorer


viewing data, browsing web.

Virtual courseware for Earth science

California State University at Los Angeles

data analysis and tutorial in geosciences.



general word processing.



displaying tabular data, making charts.



class presentation

Data Viewer

International Research Institute for climate prediction (IRI)

viewing data over web.

ODP: From Mountains to Monsoons

Ocean Drilling Program

understanding how geological data is collected and used.


High Performance System, Inc

developing skills in Systems Thinking


Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

developing skills in building understanding of complex dynamic systems

Additional Information

Submitting Assignments

Electronically only. Please call your file as follow: your name-type of assignment-number/number

Example for report: raia-report-1

Writing Reminders

1. You are expected to reference source of all ideas that are not your own, as well as including a separate list of references at the end of the paper.

2. Material from the Internet must be referenced properly. Currently accepted formats will be given the webliography.

Academic integrity

The CCNY policy on academic integrity will be followed. Document is posted on the CCNY website (CUNY policy on academic integrity—link is at the bottom of the home page). Make sure you have read the details regarding plagiarism and cheating, in case you are not clear about the rules of the college. Cases where academic integrity is compromised will be prosecuted according to these rules.

Spring 2008

City College of New York


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