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Energy Forms and Processes

All energy can be put into two major categories; kinetic and potential. Kinetic energy is
the energy possessed by moving objects, such as electrical energy and motion energy.
Potential energy is energy that is stored and poised to be used. Forms of potential energy
include gravitational energy and nuclear energy.
Most of the energy that fuels the Earths processes comes from

Looking Ahead

four primary sources: solar radiation, gravity, radioactive decay,

and the rotation of the Earth. The heat from solar radiation drives
many Earth surface processes such as evaporation, winds, and the

In Chapter 6 you will

learn more about
variations in the
Earths rotational
orbit and its
relationship to
climate change.

climate system. Gravity makes rivers and other materials flow

downhill and creates tides (from the Moon's gravitational pull).
Radioactive decay creates heat in the Earth's interior magma (see
Figure 1), while Earth's rotational forces influence currents of air
and oceanic water.
Of these four primary

sources of energy, much of the energy that fuels

life on Earth originates from the suns solar power
(i.e. solar radiation), which is a type of nuclear
power called nuclear fusion. Read more about

nuclear fusion in this document [embed link to

Nuclear Fusion PDF].
The sun is truly a glorious entity that has long
been revered both scientifically and spiritually by
humans for its incredibly powerful energy. The
amount of energy produced by the sun in a twoweek period is equal to the combined amount of
all of the Earths stored energy, which is found in
coal, oil, and natural gas reserves. In fact, one
hours worth of the suns emitted energy exceeds
what all 7 billion people on the planet consume in
an entire year.
Currently, fossil fuels
such as coal, oil, and

Looking Ahead

natural gas are the

Figure 1: A volcanic eruption at Mauna Ulu,

primary energy sources

used by humans.
Unfortunately, the rate at
which humans use fossil
fuels is contributing
greatly to changes in the
climate that threaten the

Hawaii demonstrates the Earth's internal

Coming up in the
Energy and
Spirituality section,
you will learn how the
sun has been a
source of sacred
power for many
world religions.

heat generated by the decay of radioactive

Eeruption of Mauna Ulu courtesy of
D.A. Swanson, US Geological Survey

Earth and all of its

inhabitants, including
humans. However, the use of solar radiation energy to fuel humans with the energy they
need is not damaging to the Earths climate. Therefore, it is crucial that we continue to
develop technologies that can more efficiently capture solar radiation energy, convert it
into electricity (the primary use of energy needed by humans), store this electricity, and
distribute it to homes, buildings, and industry. Solar radiation power efficiently harnessed
has the capacity to completely replace fossil fuels. We saw this in the El Hierro case study
that opened this chapter. The challenge for the future is to build a world economy that is

based on clean renewable energy.

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