Earth System Poster

Background: The Earth is made up of five spheres: atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere.  All of these spheres are interconnected through a complex web of processes.  The Earth System Poster activity walks learners through global patterns and illuminates how each of the spheres is interconnected across the world. We will divide into small groups to look at maps of different parts of the earth system that have been observed by NASA satellites. We will start by examining a single map of a single variable being monitored from space, then look at how that variable changes through the year. We will put our variables together and investigate how they influence one another, and how they might shift with a rapidly changing Arctic climate.

Components of the Earth System

Introduction to the GLOBE- NASA Earth System Poster

Advanced Preparation:
  • Print and cut out the maps in the Earth System Poster Activity Guide.
  • Preview the activity instructions and videos on this webpage.

Activity Instructions:
Step 1: Examine a single map

Examine a Single Map

Focus Questions:

  • What variable did you examine and what is the range of values shown on the scale bars?

  • Where in the world do you find the highest and lowest values (the extremes) of the data in your image? Why do you think these locations experience the extremes and not other locations?

  • Are any patterns in the data noticable? Are patterns different on different continents? Different over water than over land? Explain these patterns.

Step 2: Examine your variable through a whole year

Examine your variable through a year

Focus Questions:

  • What changes do you see through the year? What explanations can you suggest for these patterns?

  • Choose a location or region. During which months do the extreme highs and lows occur? What explanations can you suggest for the timing of those extremes?

  • Which regions experience both the extreme highs and lows? which regions don’t experience the extremes? Why do you think this happens?

  • What differences, if any, do you find between the year’s variations over the oceans versus the year’s variations over the continents?

  • Are there regions that remain relatively unchanged over the year? Why do you think this happens?

Step 3: Place your variable on the Earth system poster

Focus Questions:

  • How are the different variables connected? What explanations can you suggest for these patterns?

Here are some additional comparison activities that can help you and your students build up to the whole poster.

Compare two variables in the same month

Explore relationships between all variables for a particular month

Explore relationships between all variables 6 months apart

Step 4: Discuss how changes in the Arctic could influence the Earth system

Focus Questions:

  • Given what you know from your investigation above, how could a warmer Arctic influence the whole planet?

“What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic”

Arctic feedbacks to the global climate system from the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.

Resources for Earth System Poster:

About this Learning Activity


  • Climate change influences  earth systems at multiple scales.


  • How are different parts of the Earth system connected?

  • How is the Earth system impacted by changes in the Arctic?

NGSS themes addressed:

  • Practices- Analyzing and interpreting data; Constructing explanations; Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

  • Cross-cutting concepts- Structure and function; Patterns; Cause and effect; Scale, proportion, and quantity; Systems and system models. Systems and system models; Stability and change

  • Disciplinary core ideas- ESS2&3: Earth’s systems, Earth and Human Activity; LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Culturally-Responsive Curriculum Standards Addressed:

  • E1-encourages students to consider the inter-relationship between their local circumstances and the global community