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Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather by Mike Smith tells the story of our storm warning system. See our online store book collection.

Earth's Interior and Surface

Earth, the largest and densest rocky planet, was formed about 4.5 billion years ago. The Earth's interior is divided into four layers, which is typical of rocky planets. Each layer has different characteristics and is made of different elements and minerals.

There are many different types of features on Earth’s surface due to the complexity of our planet. The surface is unique from the other planets because it is the only one which has liquid water in such large quantities. Water forms some features of Earth's surface such as rivers, oceans, beaches and lakes. Other surface features, such as mountains, earthquakes and volcanoes, are formed when large pieces of the Earth’s outer layer move slowly by plate tectonics.

Bison roaming on mixed grass prairie - a type of <a
  href="/earth/grassland_eco.html&dev=1">grassland</a>
  - at Wind Cave National Park (U.S.).  Over one quarter of the Earth's surface
  is covered by grasslands. Grasslands are found on every continent except <a
  href="/earth/polar/polar_south.html&dev=1">Antarctica</a>,
  and they make up most of Africa and Asia. Grasslands develop where there
  isn't enough rain for <a
  href="/earth/forest_eco.html&dev=1">forests</a>
  but there is too much rain for <a
  href="/earth/desert_eco.html&dev=1">deserts</a>.
  Grasslands are filled with - you guessed it - grass.<p><small><em>        National Park Service</em></small></p>Rainforest vegetation on the Caribbean island of Dominica.  <a href="/earth/rainforest.html&dev=1">Tropical
  rainforests</a> are home to thousands of species of animals, plants, fungi and
  microbes. Scientists suspect that there are many species living in
  rainforests have not yet been found or described. Rainforests get their name
  because they receive a lot of rain - an average of 80 inches (203 cm) a year!<p><small><em>     NBII Digital Image Library - Randolph Femmer, photographer</em></small></p>Shortly after 5 am on the 18<sup>th</sup> of April in 1906, most people in
  San Francisco, CA were awoken by a sudden jolt.  The Earth shook violently in
  a strong <a
  href="/earth/geology/quake_1.html&dev=1">earthquake</a>.
  It lasted for only about a minute, but caused a lot of damage which destroyed
  much of the city. This photograph was taken just after an earthquake and
  fires had ravaged the city.<p><small><em>                                                    National Archives Still Picture Records Section, Special Media Archives</em></small></p>Hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean are located at tectonic <a
  href="/earth/interior/seafloor_spreading.html&dev=1">spreading
  ridges</a>. While most of the water in the deep ocean is close to freezing,
  the water at hydrothermal vents is very hot and laden with chemicals.  In
  this <a
  href="/earth/extreme_environments.html&dev=1">extreme
  environment</a>, certain species of <a
  href="/earth/Life/archaea.html&dev=1">Archaea</a>
  and <a
  href="/earth/Life/classification_eubacteria.html&dev=1">Eubacteria</a>
  thrive, enabling a unique <a
  href="/earth/Water/life_deep.html&dev=1">food
  chain</a> including fish, shrimp, giant tubeworms, mussels, crabs, and clams.<p><small><em> Courtesy of NASA</em></small></p>An <a href="http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Quakes/usc000905e.php">8.6 magnitude earthquake</a> struck on 11 April 2012 off of Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, followed by a strong aftershock.  Earthquake motion was primarily horizontal.  A tsunami warning was issued for the Indian Ocean, but was cancelled at 12:36 UTC.  A tsunami was observed at 1 meter or less. Find out more about <a href="/earth/geology/quake_1.html&dev=1">earthquake</a> and <a href="/earth/tsunami1.html&dev=1">tsunami</a> processes. Check out the resources <a href="/teacher_resources/2011_AGU-NESTA_GIFT_Workshop.html&dev=1">here</a>.<p><small><em>NOAA</em></small></p>Sinkholes are <a href="/teacher_resources/main/frameworks/esl_bi8.html&dev=1">natural hazards</a> in many places around the world. They are formed when water dissolves underlying <a href="/earth/Water/carbonates.html&dev=1">limestone</a>, leading to collapse of the surface.  Hydrologic conditions such as a lack of rainfall, lowered water levels, or excessive rainfall can all contribute to sinkhole development. On 2/28/2013, a sinkhole suddenly developed under the house outside of Tampa, Florida, leading to the tragic death of its occupant, Jeff Bush.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of Southwest Florida Water Management District</em></small></p>

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF