CA Science Framework Description (Chemistry in the Earth System)

Highlighted Phenomena from High School Chemistry in the Earth System

  • A nut or other high-Calorie snack food can light on fire and heat water.
  • In demonstration of the second law of thermodynamics, measurements from boreholes show the temperature of rocks is warmer as you probe deeper into Earth.
  • Small substitutions of iron into the crystal structure of quartz can cause the normally colorless mineral to be purple. Similar substitutions can be predicted using the periodic table.
  • A 2015–16 methane leak from a natural gas storage facility in California is considered “the largest climate disaster in U.S. history” because methane molecules absorb infrared energy and affect Earth’s climate.
  • The shells of delicate sea creatures called pteropods are dissolving as the ocean has become almost 40 percent more acidic than it was 150 years ago.

Introduction to High School Chemistry in the Earth System

In this course, a range of phenomena on Earth motivate the investigation of fundamental principles in chemistry. The link between combustion and climate change is the theme that integrates the sciences in this course. Combustion exemplifies chemical changes, and the combustion of fossil fuels has profound impacts on Earth’s systems, including its climate and oceans. 

The framework provides examples of how engineering can be incorporated into an integrated chemistry and Earth and space sciences curriculum. Students focus on the chemistry of global energy supplies in an engineering connection IS5 (Chemistry of Climate Change). They define the problem of ocean acidification from the perspective of different stakeholders in IS6 (Dynamics of Chemical Reactions and Ocean Acidification) and propose specific policy solutions based on the results of computer simulations, hands-on experiments, and information they obtain from online resources.

The course begins with macroscopic observations of matter and chemical reactions in IS1 (Combustion). Students refine their model of the nature of matter by focusing on the level of particles and discussing thermodynamic principles in IS2 (Heat and Energy in the Earth System). They model the transfer of heat between microscopic particles and in macroscopic laboratory systems and then gather evidence that these same processes operate at the scale of the Earth system and drive plate motions. Students then concentrate on the internal structure of the atom and use it to make sense of the periodic table and chemical bonds in IS3 (Atoms, Elements, and Molecules). In IS4 (Chemical Reactions), they refine their models to include chemical energy so that they can explain how foods and fossil fuels can combust to unleash the energy we use in our bodies and machines. In IS5 (Chemistry of Climate Change), students explore the effects of combustion on the Earth system from the chemical perspective, treating Earth’s climate as a thermodynamic system and examining how molecules with certain structures can disrupt the flow of energy in this system. They end the course studying chemical equilibrium between the air, water, and carbonate shells of ocean creatures in IS6 (Dynamics of Chemical Reactions and Ocean Acidification). As humans combust more fossil fuels and emit more CO2, the ocean becomes more acidic. Students engage in a capstone research project to predict the impact of this change on all Earth’s systems, including humans who depend on ocean life for food. 

from d’Alessio, Matthew A. (2018). Executive Summary: Science Framework for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve. Sacramento: Consortium for the Implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

High School Chemistry in the Earth System Storyline

HS 3 Course - Chem - IS Overview 1

HS 3 Course - Chem - IS Overview 2

Image Source: 2016 CA Science Framework