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The Spring 2011 issue of The Earth Scientist is focused on modernizing seismology education. Thanks to IRIS, you can download this issue for free as a pdf. Print copies are available in our online store.
Suspended clay particles, eroded from the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, give Lake Diablo its brilliant color. The active volcanoes of the Cascades result from the subduction of the Juan de Fuca plate beneath North America.
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Courtesy of Nicole LaDue

Earth Science Literacy Framework

Big Ideas of Earth Science

Earth is our home. We rely upon it for our existence in many different ways. Our planet's rocks, soils, and the chemical, physical, and biological processes that create and transform them, on the continents and beneath the oceans, produce resources and materials that sustain our way of life. Even modest changes to the Earth system, of which these are a part, have had profound influences on human societies and the course of civilization.

It is important to understand the Earth sciences - to be Earth science literate - at this time in history. Many challenges facing humanity, from dwindling energy and mineral resources, to water shortages and changing global climate, directly relate to the Earth sciences. There are many difficult decisions that governments, local and national, will have to make concerning these issues. We need citizens and governments that are Earth science literate to create policies that appropriately weigh the importance of resource conservation, use, and sustainability.

This Earth system science literacy guide identifies the Big Ideas and fundamental concepts that individuals and communities should understand to make informed decisions. Earth science literacy is very important if we are to understand how the entire Earth system and our climate function. For more information on this effort, please visit the Earth Science Literacy Initiative web site. In addition, the Earth Science Literacy Framework has been aligned with the National Science Education Standards.

  • Big Idea 1: Earth scientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet.
  • Big Idea 2: Earth is 4.6 billion years old.
  • Big Idea 3: Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life.
  • Big Idea 4: Earth is continuously changing.
  • Big Idea 5: Earth is the water planet.
  • Big Idea 6: Life evolves on a dynamic Earth and continuously modifies Earth.
  • Big Idea 7: Humans depend on Earth for resources.
  • Big Idea 8: Natural hazards pose risks to humans.
  • Big Idea 9: Humans significantly alter the Earth.
Last modified August 5, 2009 by Susan Foster.

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The Winter 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, focuses on Earth System science, including articles on student inquiry, differentiated instruction, geomorphic concepts, the rock cycle, and much more!

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