Ch.3 - Air Land Water Ice

environmental biology lecture

Reading Assignment

Chapter 3: Air, Land, Water, Ice-- click on this link to download.

Video Assignment

TED Talk: Drew Berry: Animations of unseeable biology

We have no ways to directly observe molecules and what they do — but Drew Berry wants to change that. He demos his scientifically accurate (and entertaining!) animations that help researchers see unseeable processes within our own cells.

TED Talk: Francesco Sauro: Deep under the Earth's surface, discovering beauty and science

Cave explorer and geologist Francesco Sauro travels to the hidden continent under our feet, surveying deep, dark places inside the earth that humans have never been able to reach before. In the spectacular tepuis of South America, he finds new minerals and insects that have evolved in isolation, and he uses his knowledge of these alien worlds to train astronauts.

Note Card Assignment

Prepare a single, personally-prepared, 3-inch x 5-inch note card.

Your note card may be used during the exam. Submit it for credit when turning in exam form. (one point).

Study Questions

Recommendation (NOT an assignment): Print these study questions. Then as you move through the reading or video, jot down short answers. Keep your answers VERY short, a few key words or phrases to prompt your memory. Remember, this activity is a study aid to help you prepare for the exam. Do what you need to do, but don't overdo it. You are NOT submitting your answers for points.

Reading assignment study questions

  1. Without an atmosphere, how hot could the surface of Earth be in daytime? How cold at night?
  2. Without an atmosphere, what would happen to the planet’s oceans?
  3. What region in the electromagnetic spectrum is the sun’s spectral peak? Choose one: UV; visible light; infrared.
  4. Electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths on which side of the visible spectrum is harmful to life? Why?
  5. Summarize the beneficial results of Earth’s atmosphere.
  6. What are the five atmospheric gases listed in the text; and their proportional presence in the atmosphere?
  7. What are the other atmospheric gases mentioned?
  8. Atoms of nitrogen contribute___________________. Fill in the blank with words from the text.
  9. List the kinds of biological molecules in which nitrogen is an important component.
  10. What’s the problem with molecular nitrogen (N2)? Why can’t most living things use N2 directly?
  11. What does the biochemical process of nitrogen fixation do?
  12. Write the reaction equation for nitrogen fixation.
  13. Why is ammonia (NH3) a more biochemically useful form of nitrogen than N2?
  14. What kinds of living things perform nitrogen fixation?
  15. What makes cyanobacteria special?
  16. Given billions of years of nitrogen fixation, why hasn’t all the atmospheric N2 been removed from the atmosphere?
  17. In the bacterial nitrogen economy, is any group(plant, symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria) working for free?
  18. Briefly describe the economic relationship between a soybean plant and the symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria living in its root nodules.
  19. Oxygen’s high reactivity translates into what…?
  20. Where did all the atmospheric oxygen (O2) come from?
  21. Panel: Diagrams of biologically active, nitrogen-containing molecules. In the diagrams where nitrogen is indicated as the letter ‘N,’ locate all the nitrogen atoms.
  22. Review: What is the beneficial operation that O2 provides inside living cells?
  23. How can O2 be destructive to life?
  24. What would O2 molecules do inside the cell if mitochondria were not widely dispersed throughout the cell?
  25. How does hemoglobin protect the body from oxygen on the one hand and improve the effectiveness of oxygen on the other hand?
  26. How is ozone made in the stratosphere?
  27. Why is there a layer of highest concentration of ozone in the stratosphere? Why not higher up in the atmosphere? Why not lower down in the atmosphere?
  28. Why is ozone beneficial to life?
  29. What is the intial damage done by ultraviolet radiation that can lead to sunburn? Why does the skin turn red and feel warm?
  30. Apart from sunburn, what are other ways ultraviolet radiation can be harmful to life?
  31. Isn’t there anything good about ultraviolet radiation?
  32. Methane (CH4) is very reactive and should rapidly disappear from the atmosphere as it reacts with O2 to make CO2 and water. What kinds of organisms produce methane and why does it persist in the atmosphere?
  33. What general characteristics make carbon such a versatile kind of atom (element)?
  34. Why do engineers prefer using carbon fiber composites instead of steel on cars and airplanes?
  35. Although CO2 is withdrawn from the atmosphere by photosynthesis, why is CO2 not eventually and entirely depleted from the atmosphere?
  36. How does the greenhouse effect make a planet warmer?
  37. What causes wind?
  38. How does wind increase the chances that pollen from the flower of one plant will fertilize the flower of another plant?
  39. Under what conditions is wind-pollination most effective? Least effective?
  40. Apart from just pollen distribution, wind supports plant and fungi reproduction in what other ways?
  41. What are pheromones and how does wind make them effective?
  42. How do scavengers and carrion-eaters (carrion is decaying flesh) use the wind to their advantage?
  43. We find many different kinds of birds and flying insects on islands that are extremely distant from the mainland and other islands. How did these creatures get there?
  44. What is the direction of flow for main wind currents traveling across North America?
  45. What is the significance of these global scale winds and the availability of water in the continental interior?
  46. What is the “subtropical high zone” and how is it associated with deserts north and south of the equator?
  47. Briefly, what is the significance of air as a medium for flight? What specific kinds of activities does flight support?
  48. What is rock weathering and what is the significance of rock weathering to surface life?
  49. What is desert varnish and how is it produced?
  50. What kinds of organisms can make their lives entirely on the surface of rocks?
  51. What is “deep biology” and how do these microorganisms fix carbon?
  52. How do living things exploit the cracks in rocks?
  53. What is significant about the environmental setting of caverns?
  54. How are bats able to navigate through deep caverns despite that they are dark?
  55. The floor of many caverns is crawling with life. But it takes lots of food to support this biota. Where does the food come from?
  56. How do sand dunes form?
  57. How is the fringe-toed lizard able to run briskly across the sand without its feet digging in?
  58. What are the main components of soil?
  59. What are some advantages to having access to a burrow?
  60. Why can’t the tarantula hawk wasp and the tarantula just get along?
  61. What makes an e“ecological island” an ecological island?
  62. Are all ecological islands surrounded by water?
  63. Can mountaintops be kinds of ecological islands? Why or why not?
  64. Think of other environmental settings that are ecological islands.
  65. What is the relationship between distance and the degree of isolation?
  66. What are endemic species?
  67. Why do the Hawaiian Islands, New Zealand, Australia and New Guinea have such interesting and unique species?
  68. What is a tepui and why are tepuis considered ecological islands?
  69. Explain adiabatic cooling.
  70. Why do clouds tend to form in the air above a mountaintop?
  71. What is rain shadow and what causes it?
  72. Give specific geographic examples of arid places that are influenced by rain shadows.
  73. What are hydrogen bonds and how do they influence the behavior of water molecules?
  74. What is capillary action?
  75. What is the significance of capilarry action and water uptake in plants?
  76. What is surface tension?
  77. How do water striders and archer fish benefit from surface tension and the cohesiveness of water?
  78. What is the significance of buoyancy and the effectiveness of phytoplankton in the oceans?
  79. What is the significance of buoyancy and the chemical effectiveness of large biomolecules in cells?
  80. What is the significance of the reactivity of water and the chemistry of life?
  81. What is specific heat?
  82. Does water have a high specific heat or a low specific heat?
  83. Why does it take the black collared lizard such a long time for its body temperature to increase while resting on a sunny rock?
  84. In terms of body temperature, what is the significance of having blood with a high specific heat?
  85. How can blood be used to transport heat to different parts of the body when it’s cold or when it’s hot?
  86. What do the terms, hypothermia and hyperthermia mean?
  87. In addition to being useful as sound receptors, how are the jack rabbit’s ears useful on a hot day?
  88. How is sweating (perspiring) useful on a hot day?
  89. What is a solvent and what does this term have to do with water?
  90. How does the hydrologic cycle work?
  91. There is more stuff being transported by the hydrologic cycle than just water. Like what else?
  92. What is the significance of the Gulf Stream ocean current and the winters on Ireland and Britain?
  93. Why are the winters of Anchorage, Alaska not as bitter cold as the winters in the continental interior at the same latitude?
  94. What is the temperature (in degrees F and degrees C) at which water goes from being a liquid and turns into ice?
  95. Why does ice float on liquid water?
  96. How do male emperor penguins protect their little penguin egg from the freezing cold Antarctic winters?
  97. How do polar bears make a living on floating sea ice during the Arctic summer?
  98. Where and when do female polar bears give birth?
  99. Why do glaciers form? How do they transform the shape of the land?


Video assignment study questions

TED Talk: Drew Berry: Animations of unseeable biology

  1. Why can't we use light to observe molecules directly?
  2. In the photograph by David Goodsell, what do the little red objects represent?
  3. Tiny biochemical machines copy DNA. What's the first step?
  4. In copying DNA, one strand can be copied directly. But the other strand is not so easy. How must it be copied?
  5. During cell division, microtubules connect to the chromosome at a central location. Molecules responsible for sending out the chemical "stop" signal allow for the start of cell division by doing what?
  6. What are the big goals for visualizing molecular behavior?

TED Talk: Francesco Sauro: Deep under the Earth's surface, discovering beauty and science

  1. How long are all of the underground channels combined in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky?
  2. How deep is the Krubera Voronya cave in the Caucasus region of Georgia (eastern Europe)?
  3. Geologists have estimated the total length of all the world's caves. What is their estimate?
  4. What natural forces created the cave system in the tepui explored by the presenter?
  5. The explorers discovered strange stalactite-like structures attached to the cave ceilings made by what kinds of living things?
  6. These life forms have never been encountered by humans before. What are the potential benefits for humans?



There is something odd or interesting about the situations described below. See if you can identify what is odd or interesting..

  1. What would a rainbow look like if your eyes could sense microwave and ultraviolet radiation?
  2. A new mutant X-Woman develops a mutation in which she can fix nitrogen. What could this new power mean? And why is she so hungry all the time?
  3. A scientist discovers that a long-lasting chemical waste from the manufacture of shiny mobile devices (my Precious) is collecting in the deep muds of lakes and oceans. It is particularly toxic to bacteria living there.
  4. A plant experiences a genetic mutation that causes the replacement of magnesium (Mg) with iron (Fe) in the synthesis of “chlorophyll.”
  5. A pioneering doctor has developed a new anti-aging treatment that stimulates the production of more mitochondria in cells.
  6. A writer on a science blog claims that billions of years ago, before the appearance of photosynthesis on Earth, the ozone layer was much lower in the atmosphere.
  7. A new sunblock product claims to block “All the colors of the rainbow – guaranteed!”
  8. An exoplanet astronomer discovers large amounts of methane in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a distant star.
  9. A young suitor offers his lover a gold ring set with a 2 caret chunk of carbon. “Cheapskate!”
  10. In order to prevent the planet from getting too hot, modelers are experimenting with simulations that would permanently remove all greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
  11. A TV weatherman shows how tomorrow’s strong winds will be a result of air from a Low pressure air mass being drawn into a region occupied by a High pressure air mass.
  12. All pollen and seeds are transported by animals, man.
  13. What can humans learn from plant pheromones about the application of perfume and cologne?
  14. An ecologist in the Amazon basin expresses concern following a decade of reduced dust storms in the Sahara Desert.
  15. A New York woman in Los Angeles for business prepares to board a plane that will take her home. “Well, this should go faster than my flight west.”
  16. An LA weather report predicts another day of high pressure, dryness and heat.
  17. The setting of a science fiction story in the late 1800s consisted of large cities on the surface of planet Jupiter.
  18. A Mars rover discovers a collection of rocks covered with a dark and shiny coating.
  19. A Dalek invasion kills all life in the oceans and on the continental surface, claiming that all life on Earth has been exterminated.
  20. A bat that is having trouble sleeping – because of the disturbing noise coming from chattering neighbors – decides to use ear plugs for a good day’s rest.
  21. A desert day hiker who is afraid of crawly wildlife creatures, decides to take a nap in complete isolation and safety on the side of a sand dune.
  22. A trapper is collecting pocket mice in the desert. She sets out his traps early in the morning, then collects them in late afternoon --- NOTHING!
  23. A half-asleep student hears the lecturer mention “tarantula hawk” and imagines a hawk that specializes in hunting and eating tarantulas….zzzzzzz
  24. Adventurers on the valley floor gaze up at the sheer cliffs that surround a tabletop mountain 10,000 feet above them and mutter to themselves, “The land that time forgot.”
  25. “It’s bound to be cold up there,” says one of the adventurers.
  26. A travel brochure from the town of Victorville boasts that the town is in the rain shadow of the San Bernardino Mountains. “I’d better bring my umbrella,” thinks a prospective visitor.
  27. In a water molecule, hydrogen atoms are held closely to oxygen atoms by hydrogen bonds.
  28. A young water molecule prefers to stay deep and avoids the surface, saying “It’s too tense up there.”
  29. A diabolical villain prepares to introduce a chemical into Earth’s environment that will reduce the buoyancy of water by 70%.
  30. Early one bright and sunny morning, an ice cube and a small cube of copper are removed from the kitchen freezer and exposed to the sun.
  31. On a hot, cloudless afternoon, a jack rabbit sits on the eastern side of a bush it ears facing east.
  32. After a sweaty workout, on a hot day it feels good to stand in front of the cool air of a fan.
  33. Ocean scientists express concern about the climate of Europe if the Gulf Stream ocean current stops.
  34. A climatologists wonders what the surface of the Earth would be like if ice was denser than liquid water, instead of the other way around.
  35. A polar bear in the late summer Arctic Ocean swims away from the land in hopes of finding an ice floe out at sea.
  36. An adventurer brings his kayak to Saskatchewan hoping to ride the “river of ice” located there.

Links for Enrichment and Further Learning

The importance of nitrogen-fixing bacteria