Our Changing Earth Essays

For Adults

Nature of the Stratigraphical Record
by Derek V. Ager
Age: Adult/Young Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0471938084
Referred to as a provocative book of commentary on the general pattern of earth history. Twenty years after publication, it still drives us to try and understand the how and why of the sedimentary rock record.

The Orphan Tsunami of 1700
by Brian F. Atwater
Age: Adult 
Paperback: ISBN 978-1-56025-972-5
Tells of a catastrophic event offshore of Northwest US, a century before Lewis and Clark’s expedition, that caused a tsunami  in Japan. Japanese documents and North American sediments are the primary sources of data in this detective story. A rich array of graphic detail and narrative explains the creation, action, and lasting effects of earthquakes and tsunamis.

When the Earth Moves: Rogue Earthquakes, Tremors, and Aftershocks
by Patricia Barnes-Svarney
Age: Adult 
Paperback: ISBN 0-295-98535-6
Explores the basics of earthquakes, examines quakes that occurred in unusual locations, includes eyewitness accounts of the destructive shocks, and suggests how to prepare for the potential future earthquake.

Earthquakesby Bruce A. Bolt
Age: Adult
A historical view of earthquakes and our evolving attempts to understand and predict them.

Earthquakes and Geological Discovery
by Bruce A. Bolt
Age: Adult/Young Adult
Hardcover: ISBN 10403213
Describes how and why scientists trace seismic activity and mearue the extent and patterns of seismic waves.

Earthquakes and Volcanoes: Readings from Scientific American, introductions
by Bruce A. Bolt
Age: Adult
Essays at varying levels of technical difficulty, with excellent maps, diagrams, and aerial photographs of faultlines.

Earthquakes: Science & Society
by David S. Brumbaugh
Age: Adult/Young Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0321612280
Broad introduction to the study of earthquakes.

City of Heroes: The Great Charleston Earthquake of 1886
by Richard N. Côté
Age: Adult
Heavily illustrated book with first-hand accounts of the 1886 Charleston earthquake, drawn from newspapers, personal diaries, journals, and letters of the earthquake survivors.

Magnitude 8: Earthquakes and Life Along the San Andreas Fault
by Philip Fradkin
Age: Adult
Vivid portrayals of the land people along the fault, good science of earthquakes.

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
by Stephen J. Gould
Age: Adult
Paperback: ISBN 039330700X
Hardcover: ISBN 0735100314
This book is about the Cambrian explosion of life and the Burgess Shale.

Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time (Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures)
by Stephen J. Gould
Age: Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0674891996
This book is about geologic time and the history of geology.

Alaska Earthquake: Where Were You?
compiled by Joy Griffin
Age: Adult/Young Adult
First-person accounts of the 1964 Alaska earthquake tell what it’s like to experience a big one.

Earthquakes and Earth Structure
by John H. Hodgson
Age: Adult
Explores historical earthquakes that illustrate different aspects of seismology and theory.

Finding Fault in California
by Susan Elizabeth Hough
Age: Adult
Leads the earthquake curious to the state's most accessible, active, and earth-shaping faults and tells the stories behind the major temblors that have shaken the region.

After the Earth Quakes: Elastic Rebound on an Urban Planet
by Susan E. Hough, Roger Bilham
Age: Adult
Examination of the collective responses of developed societies to major earthquake disasters.

Predicting the Unpredictable: The Tumultuous Science of Earthquake Prediction
by Susan Hough
Age: Adult/Young Adult
Hardcopy: ISBN 9780691138169

This Dynamic Earth: The Story of Plate Tectonics
by Jacquelyne Kious, Robert I. Tilling
Age: Adult/Yound Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0160482208 or online at https://pubs.usgs.gov/publications/text/dynamic.html
An excellent USGS publication with lots of great pictures!  Includes information about the discovery and science of plate tectonics.

Field Guide to the San Andreas Fault
by David K. Lynch
Age: Adult
Spiral-bound. Also available in CD.
See and touch the world's most famous fault on one of twelve easy day trips between Cape Mendocino and the Mexican Border. Mile-by-mile road logs, GPS coordinates for hundreds of fault features and accurate fault coordinates (± 100 ft). Full color, 210 pages,140 figures and photographs.

Why the Earth Quakes: The Story of Earthquakes & Volcanoes
by Matthys Levy, Mario Salvadori
Age: Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0393315274
Hardcopy: 0393037746
The authors examine famous instances of exploding volcanoes and devastating earthquakes, reliably giving the figures on casualties and Richter magnitudes and leavening the grimness with notes about why, for example, a Frank Lloyd Wright hotel withstood the 1923 Tokyo earthquake.

Control of Nature
by John McPhee
Age: Adults/Young Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0374522596
This book describes three settings-Iceland; Louisiana; and Los Angeles-where people are trying to control nature and winning or losing to various degrees. McPhee tells the essential human side of the drama to answer the questions: Why are we doing this and can we win?

Basin and Range
by John McPhee
Age: Adult/Young Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0374516901, Hardcover: ISBN 0374109141
This book shows how rocks seen in road cuts can tell us about the history of North America. It is an excellent introduction to the theory of plate tectonics. Part of the Annals of the Former World Collection.

In Suspect Terrain
by John McPhee
Age: Adult/Young Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0374517940, Hardcover: ISBN 0374176507
Interesting book about the complex geology of the Delaware Water Gap area. Examines the ability of current theories to explain the geology. Part of the Annals of the Former World Collection.

Rising from the Plains
by John McPhee
Age: Adult/Young Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0374520658
Hardcover: ISBN 0374250820
Well written book which interweaves the geologic history of Wyoming with stories of contemporary Wyoming life. Part of the Annals of the Former World Collection.

Assembling California
by John McPhee
Age: Adult/Young Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0374523932
Hardcover: ISBN 0374106452
A discussion of the geological history of California, both natural and man-made. Part of the Annals of the Former World Collection.

Powers of Nature
by National Geographic, Special Publications Division
Age: Adult
Many personal accounts of earthquakes and other natural disasters.

The Last Day: Wrath, Ruin, and Reason in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755by Nicholas Shrady
Age: Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0670018511
A historical look at the catastrophic 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and its impact on Western society.

The Earth in turmoil; earthquakes, volcanoes, and their impact on humankind
by Kerry Sieh
Age: Adult/Young Adult
ISBN 0716736519
Hardcover: ISBN 0716731517
Outlines the latest tectonic theories and analyzes some key geological events in detail.

San Francisco is Burning: The Untold Story of the 1906 Earthquake and Fires
by Dennis Smith
Age: Adult/Young Adult
ISBN 0670034428
A recount of the tragedy through the experiences of various people who were there.

15: Fifteen Seconds: The Great California Earthquake of 1989
by Tides Foundation
Age: Adult/Young Adult
Color photos and short well-chosen quotes tell the story of the Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area and Peninsula.

1001 Questions Answered About Earthquakes, Avalanches, Floods and Other Natural Disasters
by Barbara Tufty
Age: Adult/Young Adult
A basic FAQ on natural disasters with some black & white photos.

Earthquakes and Volcanoes
by Robert Muir Wood
Age: Adult/Young Adult
Colorful diagrams of how they come about, timeline.  Gives a sense of what an earthquake scientists’s job is like.

The Geology of Earthquakes
by Robert S Yeats,  Kerry Sieh, Clarence R. Allen
Age: Adult/Young Adult
Hardcopy: ISBN: 0195078276
Describes the elements of geology that are fundamental to earthquakes.

A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906
by Simon Winchester
Age: Adult/Young Adult
A new look at an old earthquake that marked the beginning of earthquake seismology in the US; some of the earthquake science isn’t quite accurate.

Roadside Geology
author varies by book
Age: Adult/Young Adult.
Format and ISBN depends on the state.
Written by local experts, this wonderful collection of books contains accessible information on state geology, especially that visible from major highways. Almost every state is represented by an individual book (i.e. The Roadside Geology of Utah). Don't do a road trip without it!

2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake
by Various
Age: Adult
Hardcover: ISBN 0956883621
Book consists of first hand accounts and experiences from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

An excellent overview of the science of prediction.

For Kids

Fossils Tell of Long Ago
by Aliki
Grades K–3
Paperback: ISBN 0064450937
Hardcover: ISBN 0690048297
Tells about the formation of fossils and clues they give us in interpreting past environments.

Geology Crafts for Kids: 50 Nifty Projects to Explore the Marvels of Planet Earth
by Alan Anderson, Gwen Diehn, Terry Krautwurst
Grades 4–7
Paperback: ISBN 0806981571
Hardcover: ISBN 0806981563
General earth science activities explore subjects such as volcanoes, fossils, rocks & minerals, and erosion.

Everybody Needs a Rock
by Byrd Baylor, Peter Parnall
Grades K–3
Paperback: ISBN 0689710518
Hardcopy: ISBN 0684138999
A neat book full of earnest advice about picking out the perfect "pet" rock.

Historical Catastrophes
by Billye Walker Brown and Walter R. Brown
Grades 6-8
Stories of eight historic quakes, illustrated with black & white photos and woodcuts.

Magic School Bus inside the Earth
by Joanna Cole
Grades K–3
Paperback: ISBN 0590407600
Hardcover: 0590407597
Gives excellent details beyond the central story line that fills in more of the geology.

Measuring Earthquakes
by Nancy Cook
Grades 7-12
Math activities based on seismology, the Richter scale, and powers of ten.  Graphs, worksheets, and some maps.

Time for Kids: Earthquakes!
by the Editors of Time for Kids with Barbara Collier
Grades K-3
Paperback: ISBN 0060782110
An introduction to earthquakes and the work scientists perform to study them.

Planet Earth, Inside Out
by Gail Gibbons
Grades K–3
Paperback: ISBN 0688158498
Hardcover: ISBN 0688096808
A simple, clear introduction to earth science, covering Earth's genesis, composition, and continuing morphology. Good descriptions of complex processes.

Earthquakes and Other Natural Disasters
by Harriet Griffey
Grades 4-7
Paperback: ISBN 0756659329
Tells of the science behind natural disasters.

Earth (Connections)
by Caroline Grimshaw, Iqbal Hussain, Nick Duffy, Spike Gerrell
Grades 4–7
Paperback: ISBN 0716613050
Hardcover: ISBN 1568474539
Deals with basic geoscience questions such as the origin of Earth and geological/biological changes through time.

Big Rock
by Bruce Hiscock
Grades 4–7
Paperback: ISBN 0689829582
Hardcover: ISBN 0689314027
Looks at how a granite rock near the author's house reveals information about Earth history.

Earthquake Games: Earthquakes and Volcanoes Explained by 32 Games and Experiments
by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori
Grades K–8.
Line drawings and diagrams, some activities could be adapted for science fairs.

Our Violent Earth
by National Geographic Society
Grades 6-9
Big colorful photos and charts, with concise text and a folder of classroom activities about earthquakes and other extremes of nature.

Eyewitness Explorers: Rocks & Minerals
by Steve Parker, Peter Visscher, Raymond Turvey, N. J. Hewetson
Grades K–3
Paperback: ISBN 0789416824
Kids can learn about fossils as well as the properties of common rocks and minerals.

Understanding Earth (2nd Edit): No Stone Unturned : Reasoning About Rocks and Fossils
by Frank Press, Raymond Siever, E. K. Peters
Grades 9–Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0716731339
An unbeatable introductory text written by masters of both education and earth science.

by Seymour Simon
Grades K–3
Paperback: ISBN 068814022X
Hardcover: ISBN 0688096344
All about earthquakes and their interactions with manmade structures.

Rocks and Minerals (Eyewitness Books)
by R. F. Symes, Colin Keates
Grades 4–7
Hardcover: ISBN 0394896211
Full color pictures and interesting text about the formation and uses of rocks and minerals.

Stone Wall Secrets
by Kristine Thorson, Robert Thorson, Gustav Moore
Grades 4–7
Hardcover: ISBN 0884481956
A farmer shares the geological history of the stones in a stone wall around the family's property with his grandson.

Volcano and Earthquake (Eyewitness Books number 38)
by Susanna Van Rose, James Stevenson
Grades 4–7
Hardcover: ISBN 0679816852
Book discusses where and how earthquakes and volcanoes occur, prediction, and human interaction with these natural phenomena.

Janice VanCleave's Earth Science for Every Kid: One Hundred & One Experiments That Really Work
by Janice Vancleave
Grades K–6
Paperback: ISBN 0471530107
A terrific collection of earth science experiments for kids.

Janice VanCleave's Earthquakes: Mind Boggling Experiments You can Turn into Science Fair Projects
by Janice Vancleave
Grades 4–7
Paperback: ISBN 0471571075

Planet Earth
by Fiona Watt, Corinne Stockley, Kuo Kang Chen
Grades 6–Adult
Paperback: ISBN 0746006373
Hardcopy: ISBN 0881105104
One of the best elementary earth science books available.

Volcanoes & Earthquakes
by Susanna van Rose
Grades 4-7
Paperback: ISBN 0756637805
Illustrated guide to earthquakes as well as volcanoes on earth and other planets.

Inside the Earth
by Rose Wyler and Gerald Ames
Grades K-3.
A “Golden Book”, almost cartoonish illustrations.

Trackers of Dynamic Earth
by Benchmark Education Company
Grades K-3.
Profiles three different scientists who study, respectively, earthquakes, volcanoes, and coral reefs.

Lesson 5: Images of Our Changing Earth


Explain that remote sensing can detect changes on the Earth's surface that occur over time, and name at least three: urbanization, deforestation, succession, etc.


Our Changing Earth

"Spaceship Earth" it has been called. When Adlai Stevenson was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations he said:

"We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable resources of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the work, the care and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft."
The first pictures the Apollo astronauts took of the Earth from space proved the Earth, at least as far as we know, is alone surrounded by lifeless space. We have no greater concern than the future of the Earth and all life on it. Exploration of space has only confirmed how very special the Earth is: the only planet with air to breathe, with liquid water, with life. To preserve it we must continue to seek greater understanding of global environmental change, and knowledge of the entire Earth system.

Human activity is now causing significant changes to the Earth on a global scale. These changes have taken place very quickly, in just the span of a few human generations. The burning of fossil fuels, for example, is putting carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere at unprecedented rates. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased by approximately 25 percent since the 1800's, and by over 10 percent since 1958! Carbon dioxide allows the suns radiation to pass through it, but blocks the flow of heat radiated outward from the Earth's surface. This creates a "Greenhouse Effect" that generally warms the Earth.

Based on the present rate of increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, climate models predict the Earth's surface temperature will increase by at least 2 degrees Celsius. This warming is predicted to change climate patterns, causing both drought and flooding, as well as to cause a rise in sea level. There are also continuing increases in other "greenhouse gases such as methane from industry and agriculture, chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) from propellants and coolants, and tropospheric ozone from automobile and industrial pollution.

Add to this the fact that nearly half the world's people have daily needs for fuel and food that are reducing the Earth's vegetation and the productivity of marginal agricultural land. Because of economic and cultural forces, their very survival often depends on cutting the Earth's forests. The clearing of tropical rainforest is often done by burning, which not only destroys the world's greatest reserve of plant and animal diversity, but adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In marginal agricultural areas, overcropping of the land and uncontrolled animal grazing may be turning productive soil into desert. This loss of topsoil to the wind becomes a major source of dust that in turn can affect atmospheric properties and climate.

The effects of these changes on Earth's systems are unknown. We do know that the Earth's ecosystems are delicately balanced and interconnected. The sun is the driving energy force of the biosphere. Within and among ecosystems, plants, animals, microscopic microbes, are connected in the cycling of energy and nutrients from the sun through water, air and Earth. Energy is transported through the Earth system by winds, ocean currents and climate patterns. It is also transported from the sun to plants, from plants to the small animals that eat them, to the larger animals at the top of the food pyramid. The cycle of life, from birth and growth to death and decay, links up with the cycles of soil, water and nutrient elements -- what is called biogeochemical cycling. While we do not know what effect human influences will have on the Earth, we are certain that there will be global change. For as the great naturalist John Muir once said: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

All the human induced changes are difficult to assess and measure accurately, but it is already clear that they are playing a major role in shaping present and future global conditions. In effect, we are carrying out an uncontrolled, largely unintentional experiment. Remote sensing and climate modeling are important tools, that help us to monitor and understand these changes. By looking at images taken today, and comparing them to images taken over the last 20 - 40 years we can literally get a picture of the Earth.

As the NASA Earth System Science Committee stated:

WE, THE PEOPLES OF THE WORLD, face a new responsibility for our global future. Through our economic and technological activity, we are now contributing to significant global changes on the Earth within the span of a few human generations. We have become part of the Earth System, and on the forces of Earth change. Research holds the key to knowledge of our global future. Now, with new scientific insight and technology, we can gain deeper understanding of the Earth as a system and of the consequences of global change for humanity. By deciding to take ... steps now, we can help to ensure that the gifts of the Earth will be preserved and passed on to future generations.


Share the information from the Background Information for Teachers with your students through discussion or presentation. Lead students in the activity Webbing. Tell the students they must think of something that is part of the natural Earth system. When the ball of yarn is tossed to them they must think of some part of the Earth system that is directly connected to the previous part. Then they hold on to a piece of the yarn and toss it to someone else. The teacher should begin by being the sun. Be sure students include non-living as well as living parts of the Earth system. When everyone has a piece of the yarn it should look like a web. Talk about how global change may only directly affect certain parts of the Earth system. Introduce air pollution (tropospheric ozone) that kills green plants, and have all the "plants" in web the web tug lightly on their piece of yarn. Then ask the class to raise their hand if they felt it. Ask students to think of other examples of global change and repeat the exercise. DO NOT LET THE STUDENTS DROP THEIR PIECE OF YARN!!

The teacher should set down the end piece and pick up the ball. As you carefully rewind the yarn, each person before they let go must name one thing they (or anyone) could do to "save the Earth." (Have a copy of Fifty Simple Things... handy in case you run out of ideas.) When you are done you will have your ball of yarn back and nearly 30 ideas of how to help the planet!


Have students pick a global change issue to investigate. You may want to divide the class into groups by topics or by sources. (i.e. global warming, ozone depletion, deforestation ... or current events in newspaper, magazines, PBS specials, books) Have each student prepare a short presentation to the class with audio-visuals about their issue(s) or what are the hot topics in current events. Encourage students to explore a variety of sources and debate conflicting viewpoints. Make a bulletin board out of their audio- visuals.


See books such as Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. There have been many good PBS/TBS/Discovery Channel specials on the Earth and global issues recently that have accompanying books and teachers guides.

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