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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 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. It is cool on the surface but very hot deep inside the planet. The center, or core, is as hot as 9000 degrees F.

The Earth's surface is unique from the other planets because it is the only one with liquid water. Water helps to make surface features such as rivers, lakes and oceans. The moving plates of the Earthís surface form other surface features such as mountains, earthquakes and volcanoes.

Rainforest vegetation on the Caribbean island of Dominica.† <a href="/earth/rainforest.html&edu=elem">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>This is the Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona. The diameter is 1.2
  kilomters, and it is 49,000 years old. Compared with other planets, <a
  href="/earth/Interior_Structure/crater.html&edu=elem">impact
  craters</a> are rare <a
  href="/earth/Interior_Structure/surface_features.html&edu=elem">surface
  features</a> on Earth. There are two main reasons for the low number of
  craters. One is that our <a
  href="/earth/Atmosphere/overview.html&edu=elem">atmosphere</a>
  burns up most <a
  href="/our_solar_system/meteors/meteors.html&edu=elem">meteoroids</a>
  before they reach the surface. The other reason is that Earth's surface is <a
  href="/earth/interior/plate_tectonics.html&edu=elem">continually
  active</a> and erases the marks of craters over time.<p><small><em>D. Roddy and LPI</em></small></p>The most majestic of the volcanoes are composite volcanoes, also
  known as strato-volcanoes. Unlike the <a
  href="/earth/interior/shield_volcanos.html&edu=elem">shield
  volcanoes</a> which are flat and broad, composite volcanoes are tall,
  symmetrically shaped, with steep sides, sometimes rising 10,000 feet high.
  They are built of alternating layers of <a
  href="/earth/interior/lava.html&edu=elem">lava</a>
  flows, volcanic <a
  href="/earth/interior/ash.html&edu=elem">ash</a>,
  cinders, blocks, and bombs.† This is a photo of Mt. Cotopaxi in Ecuador.<p><small><em>The U.S. Geological Survey</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&edu=elem">earthquake</a> and <a href="/earth/tsunami1.html&edu=elem">tsunami</a> processes. Check out the resources <a href="/teacher_resources/2011_AGU-NESTA_GIFT_Workshop.html&edu=elem">here</a>.<p><small><em>NOAA</em></small></p>Sinkholes are <a href="/teacher_resources/main/frameworks/esl_bi8.html&edu=elem">natural hazards</a> in many places around the world. They are formed when water dissolves underlying <a href="/earth/Water/carbonates.html&edu=elem">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>Hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean are located at tectonic <a
  href="/earth/interior/seafloor_spreading.html&edu=elem">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&edu=elem">extreme
  environment</a>, certain species of <a
  href="/earth/Life/archaea.html&edu=elem">Archaea</a>
  and <a
  href="/earth/Life/classification_eubacteria.html&edu=elem">Eubacteria</a>
  thrive, enabling a unique <a
  href="/earth/Water/life_deep.html&edu=elem">food
  chain</a> including fish, shrimp, giant tubeworms, mussels, crabs, and clams.<p><small><em> Courtesy of NASA</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