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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&edu=high">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&edu=high">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&edu=high">forests</a>
  but there is too much rain for <a
  href="/earth/desert_eco.html&edu=high">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&edu=high">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>Gold or Fool’s Gold? There are two easy ways to tell Fool’s Gold, the
  <a
  href="/earth/geology/min_intro.html&edu=high">mineral</a>
  <a
  href="/earth/geology/min_pyrite.html&edu=high">pyrite</a>,
  from real gold. First, pyrite leaves a black streak on a white tile whereas
  gold leaves, well, a gold streak. Also, pyrite is much harder than gold.
  Pyrite is made up of the <a
  href="/earth/geology/periodic_table.html&edu=high">elements</a>
  iron (Fe) and sulfur (S).  Both of these two elements are among the <a
  href="/earth/geology/crust_elements.html&edu=high">eight
  most abundant</a> in the <a
  href="/earth/interior/earths_crust.html&edu=high">Earth’s
  crust</a>.<p><small><em> Courtesy of Corel</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&edu=high">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>Sinkholes are <a href="/teacher_resources/main/frameworks/esl_bi8.html&edu=high">natural hazards</a> in many places around the world. They are formed when water dissolves underlying <a href="/earth/Water/carbonates.html&edu=high">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>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=high">earthquake</a> and <a href="/earth/tsunami1.html&edu=high">tsunami</a> processes. Check out the resources <a href="/teacher_resources/2011_AGU-NESTA_GIFT_Workshop.html&edu=high">here</a>.<p><small><em>NOAA</em></small></p>

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA