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Introduction to Earth Systems Science

Aida Awad, Maine East High School*;
Charles Dodd, Shoreline Community College**;
Peter Selkin, San Diego City College**
*High School
**Two Year College



This course is an introduction to Earth Systems Science. Earth Systems Science is the study of the complex interrelationships between materials and energy in the atmosphere and in the solid, fluid, and living Earth. Systems Science also involves the study of human interactions with these natural systems. In this course, we will investigate the fundamental processes that drive these systems, focusing on the measurement and representation, and response to change over time. These topics will be presented within the context of a global perspective. During the course we will solve quantitative problems and use mathematical models to describe and assess the impact of humans on Earth's systems.
In the lab, we will have an opportunity to observe, measure, and model these systems. The lab activities will be presented in the framework of problems to be solved, and will involve critical thinking in addition to using the language of mathematics. To help us evaluate the interactions between Earth's systems, we will become familiar with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and the STELLA Earth systems simulation software.

Course Size:

Course Context:

Earth Systems Science is an introductory laboratory science course with no prerequisites. The course fulfills general education requirements for natural science and is intended for college transfer students. This course has 4 hours of lecture and 2 hours of laboratory per week. The course emphasizes quantitative literacy skills, within a cooperative group problem-solving format using earth systems models.

Course Goals:

After taking this course students will be able to:

  • Use the tools and working terminology of systems science.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of Earth's atmospheric, solid, fluid, and living systems and how they respond to change.
  • Evaluate the impact of humans on natural systems.
  • Solve quantitative problems as they pertain to Earth systems.
  • Communicate information about natural processes and natural systems in a quantitative format.


  • 5 scheduled quizzes: 5% each of the final grade (each worth a possible 25 pts.)
  • 8 labs*:35% of the final grade (worth a possible 175 pts.)
  • 1 Mid-Term exam: 12% of the final grade (worth a possible 60 pts.)
  • 1 Final exam: 20% of the final grade (worth a possible 100 pts.)
  • class participation**: 8% of the final grade (worth a possible 40 pts.)

Total: 100% (total of a possible 500 points)

* individual labs vary from 20 to 25 pts.
** based on 5-6 "pop quizzes"


Syllabus (Word) (Microsoft Word 29kB Jun28 06)
Syllabus (PDF) (Acrobat (PDF) 72kB Jun28 06)

Teaching Materials:

Quantitative Skills Activity Matrix (Excel 19kB Jun28 06)
Description of Laboratory Activities (Microsoft Word 22kB Jun28 06)
Simulated Ecosystem Lab (Microsoft Word 117kB Jun28 06)

References and Notes:

Robert Christopherson, Elemental Geosystems, Prentice Hall, (5th ed) 2007.