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Earth Systems Science Core
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A complete study of Earth's ecosystems includes learning about the non-living environment in which living things exist. Abiotic factors are the non-living parts of an organism's environment, including air currents, temperature, moisture, light and soil type.

Abiotic factors greatly affect living things and often determine which species of organisms will survive in a given area. For example, a lack of rainfall in an area will only allow drought tolerant plants and animals to survive. Continued drought would reduce the total amount of plant matter in the area, which would then reduce the number of plant-eating animals that could survive in the area.

Try It!

Step outside and list at least ten abiotic factors that make up your environment.  Next to each factor tell what would happen to you if that item either didn't exist or changed drastically. Now compare your list with a similar list compiled by a friend or classmate. What factors did you find were on both lists? What abiotic factors were found on only one list?

Look at the photograph of Cathedral Valley, Utah, below.  Using the same paper you prepared with the list of abiotic factors, describe the abiotic differences between where you live and Cathedral Valley.Photo courtesy Evan Whitaker

Photo courtesy Reid Morgan

Now observe the image of a Hawaiian volcano at the right. Abiotic factors limit the kinds of organisms that will survive in an environment. What is the most important limiting factor in this photo?

Photo courtesy Evan Whitaker


The picture at the left shows a stream of water flowing away from a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. The colors are caused by different organisms living in the water. The variations you observe are due to how these organisms grow differently based on slight changes in water temperature within the stream.

The photo below was also taken looking at a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. Look closely to observe a mat of microorganisms growing in very hot water. In the center of the photo, tiny flies come to eat algae from a bump that rises high enough above the stream flow to cool the water a degree or two. Drag your mouse over the image if you need to have the flies pointed out to you!

Photo courtesy Evan Whitaker


Find a photograph of an environment on Earth that you think looks cool. You may use a book, magazine, or the Internet as a reference. Identify all the abiotic factors you can. (Click the link for a reminder of the kinds of abiotic factors.) How many of the factors did you identify?

Try testing your friends or family. While on a walk or drive, see how many abiotic factors they can identify. You may have to help them be successful!

Review science lab safety rules here.

Get the plug-ins: Get Adobe Acrobat Reader and Get Quicktime Player. (The QuickTime plug-in is needed to play sounds and movies correctly.)

Want to share photos of you or your friends doing this activity? Send it in an e-mail with the following information:

  1. The title of the activity
  2. The URL (Internet address)
  3. Your name.

Remember that no pictures can be used that show student faces or student names on it. 

Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE Earth Systems Science core.


Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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