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AP Environmental Science

Unit 1 Study Guide

Earth Systems and Resources

I. Geological Time Scale

- Two time scales:
1. Based on the sequence of layering of the rocks and the evolution of life
2. Based on the natural radioactivity of chemical elements in rocks (radiometric time scale)
- Principle of Superstition: any given layer is probably older than those above it and younger than
those below it
- Eon Era Period Epochs Stage

II. Earth Structure

- Crust:
1. Makes up only 0.5% of the Earths total mass
2. Basalt- rich oceanic crust vs. granite-rich continental crust
3. Majority of rocks in the Earths crust are igneous
- Mohorovicic (Moho) Discontinuity: boundary between the Earths crust and the mantle
- Mantle:
1. Most of the Earths mass is in the mantle
2. Composed of Iron, Magnesium, Aluminum, and silicon- oxygen compounds
3. Most of the mantle is solid but the upper third (asthenosphere) is plastic-like in nature
- Core:
1. Composed mostly of iron
2. Outer core is molten because it is so hot
3. Inner core is under such extreme pressure it remains solid

III. Plate Tectonics:

- Continental Drift Theory: In 1915, Alfred Wegner proposed that all of the continents had once
been a single landmass known as Pangaea; gained acceptance in 1960
- Seafloor Spreading Theory: the formation of new areas of oceanic crust, which occurs through the
upwelling of magma at mid-oceanic ridges and its subsequent outward movement on either side.

- Types of Boundaries:
1. Transform:
San Andres Fault
2. Divergent:
Mid- Atlantic Ridge
East Pacific Rise
East African Great Rift Valley
3. Convergent
Cascade Mountain Range
Mount St. Helens
Himalayan Mountain Range

- When two oceanic plates collide, they create an island arc a curved chain of volcanic islands
near a continent (ex. Japan and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska)
- When two continental plates collide, mountain ranges are creates (ex. Himalayas)

IV. Earthquakes:
- Massive amount of stored energy that is held in place by friction, is released in a very short period
of time
- Focus: exactly where the energy is released from
- Epicenter: the point above the focus on the surface of the Earth
- The strength or magnitude of an Earthquake is measured on the logarithmic Richter Scale
- Body Wave: travel through the Earth +> P-wave then S-wave
AP Environmental Science
Unit 1 Study Guide

Earth Systems and Resources

- Surface Wave: produce the rolling or swaying motion on the surface and are slower than body
- Examples:
Haiti, 2010:
- Inadequate building standards
- 7.0 earthquake at a depth of 8 miles
San Andres Fault

V. Volcanoes:
- Common gases released are steam (H2O, CO2, SO2, HCl)
- Intermittent, dormant, or extinct
- Most commonly occur at subduction zones and mid-oceanic ridges
- Magnetic changes can be a precursor for volcanic activity
- Examples:
Mt. Saint Helens:
Washington, exploded in 1980
Destroyed wildlife, air pollution, killed 75 people
Mt. Pinatubo:
Philippines, erupted in 1991
18 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide released
VI. Soil:
- Thin layer on top of most of Earths land surface; basic natural resource (abiotic factor)
- Composition:
45% minerals
Clay = low permeability to water
Loam (equal mixture of clay, sand, silt, and humus)

25% air
25% water
5% organic matter

- Soil develops in response to several factors:

1. Parent Material: rock and minerals from which the soil derives. The nature of the parent
rock has a direct effect on the overall soil profile
2. Climate: measured by precipitation and temperature; results in partial weathering of the
parent material, which forms the substrate for soil
3. Living Organisms: include bacteria, fungi, insects, worms, snails, etc. that help to
decompose and recycle nutrients
4. Topography: physical characteristics of the location (drainage, slope direction, elevation,
and wind exposure)

- Soil Profile:
O Horizon: leaves and partially decomposed organic debris
A Horizon: topsoil; organic matter (humus), living organisms, inorganic minerals
E Horizon: zone of leeching: dissolved and suspended materials move downward
B Horizon: subsoil: where all the leeching collects; lots of minerals
C Horizon: weathered parent material
Bedrock: parent material
AP Environmental Science
Unit 1 Study Guide

Earth Systems and Resources

- Erosion: movement of weathered rock or soil components from one place to another. This
destroys the soil profile => positive feedback loop
Poor Agriculture Techniques that cause erosion:
Row cropping
Improper plowing

Types of Erosion:
Sheet: soil moves off as a horizontal layer
Rill: Fast flowing water cuts small channels in the soil
Gully: extreme case of rill erosion, where over time, channels increase in size
and depth

Desertification: in an arid or semiarid land, productive potential falls by at least 10% due
to human activity or climate change
Salinization: water that is not absorbed into the soil and evaporates leaves behind
dissolved salts in topsoil
Waterlogging: saturation of soil with water resulting in a rise in the water table
Dust Bowl (1930s): caused by plowing the prairies and resulted in the loss of
natural grasses that rooted the soil. Drought and winds occurred, blowing the
remaining topsoil
- Laws:
Soil Erosion Act (1935): established the Soil Conservation Service; surveys the
soil from time to time for quality
Soil and Water Conservation Act (1977): continued appraisal of US soil,
water, and related resources

VII. Landslides and Mudslides:

- Landslides:
Occur when masses of earth, rock, or debris move down a slope
Caused by disturbances in the natural stability of a slope

- Mudslides:
fast moving landslide that moves in channels
develop when water rapidly collects in the ground and results in a surge of water-soaked
debris (usually on steep slopes)

- Increased risk areas:

Areas where wildfires or construction have destroyed vegetation
Previous landslides
Steep slopes
Slopes that have been altered for the construction of buildings and roads
Channels along a stream or river
Areas where surface runoff is directed
AP Environmental Science
Unit 1 Study Guide

Earth Systems and Resources

VIII. Rock Cycle: