Essential Principle: The atmosphere constantly interacts with other components of the Earth system.

Group Participants: Sarah Wise (Facilitator), Kristin Conrad (OPL), Nicole Ladue, Susan Gallagher, Rhonda Spydel, Bob Reekie, Marika Holland, Ira Gear, Chris Donovan, David Andersen, Carol Knight, Frank Niepold

Introduction:  Hello, online participants.  My name is Kristin Conrad, and I will serve you as group 5A's Online Participant Liason (OPL).  I will both capture the gist of the discussion, and will relay selected comments from online participants, back to members of this breakout session.  We hope that you will enjoy and participate in this important discussion.

NOTE:  Please refresh your browser (PCs use F5 key; Macs use function+F5) every 30 - 60 seconds to view the most recent comments.


The group is now going to brainstorm ideas for Fundamental Concepts for this Essential Principle - The atmosphere constantly interacts with other componenets of the Earth system.

  • weathering and erosion - soil loss a huge issue, globally
  • water cycle and movement of water
  • carbon cycle
  • geochemical cycles - nitrogen, carbon, potassium --- list 3 or 4 major ones
  • heat transfer/energy transfer (ocean)
  • solar energy transfered through many different spheres -- (discussion:  this may go under the "solar" EP; don't make it specifically "solar" - just "energy")
  • Nature of "systems"
    • prediction is difficult without using a system approach (ocean affects atmosphere)
    • previous history can change the system behavior
    • both negative and positive feedbacks are key
    • emergent features appear as systems interact
  • from a geoscience standpoint, a system is the interaction of 2 or more processes (we are discussing the word "system")
  • how does the atmosphere work with regard to the overall earth system?
  • atmosphere exchanges mass and energy with other parts of the Earth system - we are talking about what is going back-and-forth.  This is under EP #3, though it can be in both places
    • these interactions lead to feedback that can amplify or dampen change
  • biogeochemical cycles, el nino, enso, polar amplification cycles come into play
  • important for population to understand the "system" in order to understand the problem.  This is difficult due to complexity of information.  Requires a serious investment in rational thinking and teaching
  • Need for teaching a "systems course" -- This is now done in medical training
  • Need to understand what we mean by the "earth system" and interaction issues...
  • Do we NEED to think about this within a systems context?
  • Need to mention what these other Earth systems are, since it is mentioned in the EP title.
    • need to look at the other systems to understand the effects they have on the atmosphere
  • One suggestion change to the EP:  The atmosphere is an intergral part of the Earth system and constantly interacts with these other systems. (feels the atmosphere sounds too separate from the other systems)
  • The atmosphere is the  most temporally dynamic of the Earth system components
  • The atmosphere is affected by the biosphere, oceans, etc and... (there is now an attempt to simplify the language of how to explain these systems interaction)
  • "Atmospheric processes interact with other components of the Earth System"
  • "Atmospheric processes transfer energy and mass among other components of the Earth System"
  •  fold all of the things that are interacted WITH into one fundamental concept and then listing specifics...
  • Feedback processes within the Earth system can amplify or dampen
  • these interactions lead to unanticipated or unknown behaviors in the system
  • emergent phenomena...
  • "Interactions can lead to unknown behaviors of the Earth system and can lead to emerging phenomena."
  • average citizen won't understand, "emergent phenomena" term
  • predictions require and earth system approach and understanding of the components of the system
    • requires understanding of the interactions, as well
  • "our atmosphere is constantly interacting"  -- is this statement at a lower level -- requires concept of understanding the earth system
  • Earth system approach is essential for understanding this EP
  • there are many cycles on our planet that interact in an integrated way, the understanding of which is important to understanding our Earth system
  • discussion of using the term "spheres" in context of explaining interaction of systems.  People misunderstand the word and group wants to avoid it

The group is now going to work on the draft Fundamental Concept statements...

Draft Fundamental Concepts 

1.  Atmospheric processes interact and transfer energy and matter with other components of the Earth system such as: water, ice, land, and living things.  For example, the exchanging of energy between oceans and atmosphere in hurricane formation.

2.  Prediction of atmospheric phenomena requires knowledge and understanding of components of the system.   

3.  The interaction of components of the Earth system produce (emergent) phenomena unique to the system. For example, abrupt climate change. (A different example could be the ozone hole)

4.  Life forms on planet Earth cannot be maintained without humans changing their interactions with the Earth System.  (this statement might need to move to EP #7 -- included as potential FCs)

5.  Within the atmosphere there are biogeochemical cycles which vary across time scales.

6.  Historical interactions between the atmosphere and other systems affect current behavior of the atmosphere.

Final comments:  FCs 5 and 6 are potentials that were not thouroughly discussed, or may need to be moved.  

Online Viewers:  Please use the "Add Comments" button below to add your comments and suggestions.
  • No labels


  1. you may want to consider revising this EP to be:

    the atmosphere is constantly changed through its interactions with other components of the Earth system?

    1. The group is discussing this, but feels that this may focus too much on the concept of "change".  The word "interaction" is stronger, they feel. The public reacts or misunderstands the word, "change", as well. [Kristin]

  2. This makes me think of the reservoir and process difference as location and tranport analogues. If the atmosphere is a location, its composition changes as mass is added or removed from it.

    Lois Ongley Unity College

    1. and both need to be represented.  as a reservoir, one can think of the interactions with the other systems from the perspective of inputs and outputs - reflected by the geochemical and hydrological cycles - but the lagrangian view (transport) brings in the mechanical or physical interactions between physical systems.. e.g., wind erosion, flooding, uplift over mountains, etc.

  3. you are probably farther along that what i can see in the blog, but i presume there will fundamental concepts related to the transfer of matter and energy between the ocean, land, and atmosphere reservoirs?

    1. Hi, Jill.  Your point was a detail of number 1 that I hadn't gotten down.  I've put it there, roughly...  Thanks! [Kristin]

  4. i would like to ask someone to raise the following comment when you are back in plenary, if possible.  i raise it here, because it is very relative to this discussion of interaction with the other Earth systems.  a lot of what i am hearing discussed sounds like it could be called environmental science, and while it is true that there is significant overlap between environmental science and earth system science, they are not equivalent.  perhaps one day they will be, but for now, the emphasis of environmental science is focused on very shallow earth processes and is very bio-centric.  it is important to remember that earth system science includes the deep earth and deep time processes not traditionally covered by environmental science, which have also influenced the origin and evolution of the atmosphere (volcanic degassing; planetary accretion; recycling of volatiles through subduction; etc.). 

     for this EP in particular, i wonder whether it would be important to introduce the concept that there are boundary layers between the atmosphere, ocean, and lithosphere rather than sharp boundaries?  this allows one to get into the fact that you can have a sub-surface biosphere and introduction of aerosols over the oceans....

    1. Thank you. I shared your comment and the group agreed they were talking about whether sustainability came into this discussion but they did move back to the larger earth system viewpoint.  They also left the environmental FC in there as an example that might need to be moved to EP#7.