ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes
How do the properties and movements of water shape Earth's surface and affect its systems?
- Introduction to ESS2.C
- K-12 Progression and Grade Band End Points for ESS2.C
- Performance Expectations Associated with ESS2.C
- Additional Resources for ESS2.C
Earth is often called the water planet because of the abundance of liquid water on its surface and because water’s unique combination of physical and chemical properties is central to Earth’s dynamics. These properties include water’s exceptional capacity to absorb, store, and release large amounts of energy as it changes state; to transmit sunlight; to expand upon freezing; to dissolve and transport many materials; and to lower the viscosities and freezing points of the material when mixed with fluid rocks in the mantle. Each of these properties plays a role in how water affects other Earth systems (e.g., ice expansion contributes to rock erosion, ocean thermal capacity contributes to moderating temperature variations).
Water is found almost everywhere on Earth, from high in the atmosphere (as water vapor and ice crystals) to low in the atmosphere (precipitation, droplets in clouds) to mountain snowcaps and glaciers (solid) to running liquid water on the land, ocean, and underground. Energy from the sun and the force of gravity drive the continual cycling of water among these reservoirs. Sunlight causes evaporation and propels oceanic and atmospheric circulation, which transports water around the globe. Gravity causes precipitation to fall from clouds and water to flow downward on the land through watersheds.
About 97 percent of Earth’s water is in the ocean, and most fresh water is contained in glaciers or underground aquifers; only a tiny fraction of Earth’s water is found in streams, lakes, and rivers. The relative availability of water is a major factor in distinguishing habitats for different living organisms.
Water participates both in the dissolution and formation of Earth’s materials. The downward flow of water, both in liquid and solid form, shapes landscapes through the erosion, transport, and deposition of sediment. Shoreline waves in the ocean and lakes are powerful agents of erosion. Over millions of years, coastlines have moved back and forth over continents by hundreds of kilometers, largely due to the rise and fall of sea level as the climate changed (e.g., ice ages).
Grade Band Endpoints for
By the end of grade 2. Water is found in the ocean, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Water exists as solid ice and in liquid form. It carries soil and rocks from one place to another and determines the variety of life forms that can live in a particular location.
By the end of grade 5. Water is found almost everywhere on Earth: as vapor; as fog or clouds in the atmosphere; as rain or snow falling from clouds; as ice, snow, and running water on land and in the ocean; and as groundwater beneath the surface. The downhill movement of water as it flows to the ocean shapes the appearance of the land. Nearly all of Earth’s available water is in the ocean. Most fresh water is in glaciers or underground; only a tiny fraction is in streams, lakes, wetlands, and the atmosphere.
By the end of grade 8. Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation as well as downhill flows on land. The complex patterns of the changes
and the movement of water in the atmosphere, determined by winds, landforms, and ocean temperatures and currents, are major determinants of local weather patterns. Global movements of water and its changes in form are propelled by sunlight and gravity. Variations in density due to variations in temperature and salinity drive a global pattern of interconnected ocean currents. Water’s movements—both on the land and underground—cause weathering and erosion, which change the land’s surface features and create underground formations.
By the end of grade 12. The abundance of liquid water on Earth’s surface and its unique combination of physical and chemical properties are central to the planet’s dynamics. These properties include water’s exceptional capacity to absorb, store, and release large amounts of energy; transmit sunlight; expand upon freezing; dissolve and transport materials; and lower the viscosities and melting points of rocks.