When humanity first glimpsed planet Earth from space, the unity of the system that supports humankind entered the popular consciousness. The concept of the Earth's atmosphere, biosphere, oceans, soil, and rocks operating as a closely interacting system has rapidly gained ground in science. This new field, involving geographers, geologists, biologists, oceanographers, and atmospheric physicists, is known as Earth System Science. In this Very Short Introduction, Tim Lenton considers how a world in which humans could evolve was created; how, as a species, we are now reshaping that world; and what a sustainable future for humanity within the Earth System might look like. Drawing on elements of geology, biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics, Lenton asks whether Earth System Science can help guide us onto a sustainable course before we alter the Earth system to the point where we destroy ourselves and our current civilisation. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
In this Very Short Introduction, Mark Maslin looks at all aspects of climate, from the physical and chemical factors that drive it and how climate differs from weather, to how climate has affected human settlements and the cyclic features of it. He ends with a look at climate change and our current approaches to solving it.
For generations, the ground beneath the feet of our ancestors seemed solid and unchanging. Around 30 years ago, two things happened that were to revolutionize the understanding of our home planet. First, geologists realized that the continents themselves were drifting across the surface of the globe and that oceans were being created and destroyed. Secondly, pictures of the entire planet were returned from space. As the astronomer Fred Hoyle had predicted, this 'let loose an idea as powerful as any in history'. Suddenly, the Earth began to be viewed as a single entity; a dynamic, interacting whole, controlled by complex processes we scarcely understood. It began to seem less solid. As one astronaut put it, 'a blue jewel on black velvet; small, fragile and touchingly alone'. Geologists at last were able to see the whole as well as the detail; the wood as well as the trees. This book brings their account up to date with the latest understanding of the processes that govern our planet. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Examines the origins of life on Earth and the search for extraterrestrial life, through an understanding of the factors that have allowed life to exist on this planet and the commonalities on others that may enable life elsewhere.
"In an era of warming climate, the study of the ice age past is now more important than ever. This book examines the wonders of the Quaternary ice age - to show how ice age landscapes and ecosystems were repeatedly and rapidly transformed as plants, animals, and humans reorganized their worlds." --Publisher.
Rocks, more than anything else, underpin our lives. They make up the solid structure of the Earth and of other rocky planets, and are present at the cores of gas giant planets. We live on the rocky surface of the planet, grow our food on weathered debris derived from rocks, and we obtain nearly all of the raw materials with which we found our civilization from rocks. From the Earth's crust to building bricks, rocks contain our sense of planetary history, and are a guide to our future. In this Very Short Introduction Jan Zalsiewicz looks at the nature and variety of rocks, and the processes by which they are formed. Starting from the origin of rocks and their key role in the formation of the Earth, he considers what we know about the deep rocks of the mantle and core, and what rocks can tell us about the evolution of the Earth, and looks at those found in outer space and on other planets. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
To meet the challenges of the future, the scientific community has recognized the importance of uniting efforts in understanding and caring for Earth and its systems. Science of Earth's Systems explains how scientists have found it necessary to share their research across disciplines to try and comprehend Earth's complexities, and how they are being affected by human activities. It brings together the interactions that occur in the living and non-living world, and provides readers with a solid understanding of the processes that take place on and around Earth and the synergies that exist between them. Topics covered include the role of science and technology in society; matter and energy; astronomy; geology; meteorology; oceanography; biology; environmental science; and much more. With colorful photo references, charts and tables, to help illustrate the subjects, this text is an valuable resource for learners of science in the twenty-first century.
What were the landscapes of the past like? What will landscapes look like in the future? Landscapes are all around us, but most of us know very little about how they have developed, what goes on in them, and how they react to changing climates, tectonics and human activities. Examining what landscape is, and how we use a range of ideas and techniques to study it, Andrew Goudie and Heather Viles demonstrate how geomorphologists have built on classic methods pioneered by some great 19th century scientists to examine our Earth. Using examples from around the world, including New Zealand, the Tibetan Plateau, and the deserts of the Middle East, they examine some of the key controls on landscape today such as tectonics and climate, as well as humans and the living world. They also discuss some key 'landscape detectives' from the past, including Charles Darwin who did some important, but often overlooked, research on landscape. Concluding with the cultural importance of landscape, and exploring how this has led to the conservation of much 'earth heritage', they delve into the future and look at how we can predict the response of landscapes to climate change in the future. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Minerals existed long before any forms of life, playing a key role in the origin and evolution of life; an interaction with biological systems that we are only now beginning to understand. Exploring the traditional strand of mineralogy, which emphasises the important mineral families, the well-established analytical methods (optical microscopy and X-ray diffraction) and the dramatic developments made in techniques over recent decades, David Vaughan also introduces the modern strand of mineralogy, which explores the role minerals play in the plate tectonic cycle and how they interact with the living world. Demonstrating how minerals can be critical for human health and illness by providing essential nutrients and releasing poisons, Vaughan explores the multitude of ways in which minerals have aided our understanding of the world. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Global warming is arguably the most critical and controversial issue facing the world in the twenty-first century. This Very Short Introduction provides a concise and accessible explanation of the key topics in the debate: looking at the predicted impact of climate change, exploring the political controversies of recent years, and explaining the proposed solutions. Fully updated for 2008, Mark Maslin's compelling account brings the reader right up to date, describing recent developments from US policy to the UK Climate Change Bill, and where we now stand with the Kyoto Protocol. He also includes a chapter on local solutions, reflecting the now widely held view that, to mitigate any impending disaster, governments as well as individuals must to act together. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
The atmosphere is the thin, diffuse fluid that envelops the Earth's surface. Despite its apparent fragility, the existence of this fluid is vital for human and other life on Earth. In this Very Short Introduction Paul Palmer describes the physical and chemical characteristics of different layers in the atmosphere, and shows how the interactions where the atmosphere is in contact with land, ocean, and ice affect its observed physical and chemical properties. He also looks at how movement in the atmosphere, driven by heat from the sun, transports heat from lower latitudes to higher latitudes, and is a fundamental feature of the general circulation in the atmosphere. Finally, Palmer presents an overview of the types of measurements used to understand different parts of the atmosphere, and identifies the future challenges for atmospheric scientists. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
The 1960s revealed a new and revolutionary idea in geological thought: that the continents drift with respect to one another. After having been dismissed for decades as absurd, the concept gradually became part of geology's basic principles. We now know that the Earth's crust and upper mantle consist of a small number of rigid plates that move, and there are significant boundaries between pairs of plates, usually known as earthquake belts. Plate tectonics now explains much of the structure and phenomena we see today: how oceans form, widen, and disappear; why earthquakes and volcanoes are found in distinct zones which follow plate boundaries; how the great mountain ranges of the world were built. The impact of plate tectonics is studied closely as these processes continue: the Himalaya continues to grow, the Atlantic is widening, and new oceans are forming. In this Very Short Introduction Peter Molnar provides a succinct and authoritative account of the nature and mechanisms of plate tectonics and its impact on our understanding of Earth. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Previous editions published as: Global warming.
The importance of the oceans to life on Earth cannot be overstated. Liquid water covers more than 70% of our planet's surface and, in past geological time, has spread over 85%. Life on Earth began in the oceans over 3.5 billion years ago and remained there for the great majority of that time. Today the seas still provide 99% of habitable living space, the largest repository of biomass, and holds the greatest number of undiscovered species on the planet. Our oceans are vital for the regulation of climate, and with global warming and decreasing land area, they have become increasingly important as the source of food, energy in the form of oil and gas, and for their mineral wealth. Oceans also form a key part of the biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen, and other elements critical to life. Nutrients in upwelling areas are spread by ocean currents, and the plankton of the seas supports a wealth of wildlife. In this Very Short Introduction Dorrik Stow analyses these most important components of our blue planet and considers their relationship with, and exploitation by, humans. He shows how the oceans are an essential resource to our overpopulated world, and discusses why exploration and greater scientific understanding of the oceans, their chemistry, and their mineral wealth are now a high priority. Stow also explores what we know of how oceans originate, and evolve and change; the shape of the seafloor and nature of its cover; the physical processes that stir the waters and mix such a rich chemical broth; and the inseparable link between oceans and climate. As polar ice melts and sea-levels rise, countless millions who have made their homes on low-lying lands close to the sea are threatened. As scientific exploration of the seas gathers pace, the new knowledge gained of the ocean-Earth systems and their interaction with the human environment is vital to our understanding of how we can preserve these ultimately fragile environments. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
From deciding the best day for a picnic, to the devastating effects of hurricanes and typhoons, the weather impacts our lives on a daily basis. Although new techniques allow us to forecast the weather with increasing accuracy, most people do not realise the vast global movements and forces which result in their day-to-day weather. In this Very Short Introduction Storm Dunlop explains what weather is and how it differs from climate, discussing what causes weather, and how we measure it. Analysing the basic features and properties of the atmosphere, he shows how these are directly related to the weather experienced on the ground, and to specific weather phenomena and extreme weather events. He describes how the global patterns of temperature and pressure give rise to the overall circulation within the atmosphere, the major wind systems, and the major oceanic currents, and how features such as mountains and the sea affect local weather. He also looks at examples of extreme and dangerous weather, such as of tropical cyclones (otherwise known as hurricanes and typhoons), describing how 'Hurricane Hunters' undertake the dangerous task of flying through them. We measure weather in a number of ways: observations taken on the land and sea; observations within the atmosphere; and measurements from orbiting satellites. Dunlop concludes by looking at how these observations have been used to develop increasingly sophisticated long- and short-range weather forecasting, including ensemble forecasting. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Symmetry is an immensely important concept in mathematics and throughout the sciences. In this Very Short Introduction, Ian Stewart highlights the deep implications of symmetry and its important scientific applications across the entire subject.
Bacteria form a fundamental branch of life. They are the oldest forms of life as we know it, and they are still the most prolific living organisms. They inhabit every part of the Earth's surface, its ocean depths, and even terrains such as boiling hot springs. They are most familiar as agents of disease, but benign bacteria are critical to the recycling of elements and all ecology, as well as to human health. In this Very Short Introduction, Sebastian Amyes explores the nature of bacteria, their origin and evolution, bacteria in the environment, and bacteria and disease. In looking at our efforts to manage co-evolving bacteria, he also considers the challenges of resistance to antibiotics. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Mountains cover a quarter of the Earth's land surface and are home to about 12 percent of the global population. They are the sources of all the world's major rivers, affect regional weather patterns, provide centres of biological and cultural diversity, hold deposits of minerals, and provide both active and contemplative recreation. Yet mountains are also significantly affected by climate change; as melting and retreating glaciers show. Given the manifold goods and services which mountains provide to the world, such changes are of global importance. In this Very Short Introduction, Martin Price outlines why mountains matter at the global level, and addresses the existing and likely impacts of climate change on mountain, hydrological and ecological systems. Considering the risks associated with the increasing frequency of extreme events and 'natural hazards' caused by climate change, he discusses the implications for both mountain societies and wider populations, and concludes by emphasizing the need for greater cooperation in order to adapt to climate change in our increasingly globalized world. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Water dominates the surface of Earth and is vital to life on our planet. It is a remarkable liquid which shows anomalous behaviour. In this Very Short Introduction John Finney introduces the science of water, and explores how the structure of water molecules gives rise to its physical and chemical properties. Considering water in all three of its states as ice and steam as well as liquid, Finney explains the great importance of an understanding of its structure and behaviour to a range of fields including chemistry, astrophysics, and earth and environmental sciences. Finney describes the role of water in biology, and ends with a discussion of the outstanding controversies concerning water, and some of the 'magical' properties which have been claimed for it. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
The Earth that sustains us today was born out of a few remarkable, near-catastrophic revolutions, started by biological innovations and marked by global environmental consequences. The revolutions have certain features in common, such as an increase in complexity, energy utilization, and information processing by life. This book describes these revolutions, showing the fundamental interdependence of the evolution of life and its non-living environment. We would not exist unless these upheavals had led eventually to 'successful' outcomes - meaning that after each one, at length, a new stable world emerged. The current planet-reshaping activities of our species may be the start of another great Earth system revolution, but there is no guarantee that this one will be successful. The book explains what a successful transition through it might look like, if we are wise enough to steer such a course. This book places humanity in context as part of the Earth system, using a new scientific synthesis to illustrate our debt to the deep past and our potential for the future.

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