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{{short description|The phenomena of the physical world, and life in general}}{{Other uses}}{{Redirect|Natural}}{{pp-move-indef}}{{Use mdy dates|date=September 2018}}{{Multiple image
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}}Nature, in the broadest sense, is the natural, physical, or material world or universe. "Nature" can refer to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general. The study of nature is a large, if not the only, part of science. Although humans are part of nature, human activity is often understood as a separate category from other natural phenomena.The word nature is derived from the Latin word natura, or "essential qualities, innate disposition", and in ancient times, literally meant "birth".{{OEtymD|nature|accessdate=September 23, 2006}} Natura is a Latin translation of the Greek word physis (φύσις), which originally related to the intrinsic characteristics that plants, animals, and other features of the world develop of their own accord.An account of the pre-Socratic use of the concept of φύσις may be found in Naddaf, Gerard (2006) The Greek Concept of Nature, SUNY Press. The word φύσις, while first used in connection with a plant in Homer, occurs very early in Greek philosophy, and in several senses. Generally, these senses match rather well the current senses in which the English word nature is used, as confirmed by Guthrie, W.K.C. Presocratic Tradition from Parmenides to Democritus (volume 2 of his History of Greek Philosophy), Cambridge UP, 1965.The first known use of physis was by Homer in reference to the intrinsic qualities of a plant: ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας πόρε φάρμακον ἀργεϊφόντης ἐκ γαίης ἐρύσας, καί μοι φύσιν αὐτοῦ ἔδειξε. (So saying, Argeiphontes [=Hermes] gave me the herb, drawing it from the ground, and showed me its nature.) Odyssey 10.302-3 (ed. A.T. Murray). (The word is dealt with thoroughly in Liddell and Scott's Greek Lexicon.) For later but still very early Greek uses of the term, see earlier note. The concept of nature as a whole, the physical universe, is one of several expansions of the original notion; it began with certain core applications of the word φύσις by pre-Socratic philosophers, and has steadily gained currency ever since. This usage continued during the advent of modern scientific method in the last several centuries.Isaac Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), for example, is translated "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy", and reflects the then-current use of the words "natural philosophy", akin to "systematic study of nature"The etymology of the word "physical" shows its use as a synonym for "natural" in about the mid-15th century: {{OEtymD|physical|accessdate=September 20, 2006}}Within the various uses of the word today, "nature" often refers to geology and wildlife. Nature can refer to the general realm of living plants and animals, and in some cases to the processes associated with inanimate objects–the way that particular types of things exist and change of their own accord, such as the weather and geology of the Earth. It is often taken to mean the "natural environment" or wilderness–wild animals, rocks, forest, and in general those things that have not been substantially altered by human intervention, or which persist despite human intervention. For example, manufactured objects and human interaction generally are not considered part of nature, unless qualified as, for example, "human nature" or "the whole of nature". This more traditional concept of natural things which can still be found today implies a distinction between the natural and the artificial, with the artificial being understood as that which has been brought into being by a human consciousness or a human mind. Depending on the particular context, the term "natural" might also be distinguished from the (Wikt:unnatural|unnatural) or the supernatural.

Earth

{{Nature timeline}}File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg|thumb|left|View of the Earth, taken in 1972 by the crew of Apollo 17Apollo 17Earth is the only planet known to support life, and its natural features are the subject of many fields of scientific research. Within the solar system, it is third closest to the sun; it is the largest terrestrial planet and the fifth largest overall. Its most prominent climatic features are its two large polar regions, two relatively narrow temperate zones, and a wide equatorial tropical to subtropical region.WEB,weblink World Climates, Blue Planet Biomes, September 21, 2006, Precipitation varies widely with location, from several metres of water per year to less than a millimetre. 71 percent of the Earth's surface is covered by salt-water oceans. The remainder consists of continents and islands, with most of the inhabited land in the Northern Hemisphere.Earth has evolved through geological and biological processes that have left traces of the original conditions. The outer surface is divided into several gradually migrating tectonic plates. The interior remains active, with a thick layer of plastic mantle and an iron-filled core that generates a magnetic field. This iron core is composed of a solid inner phase, and a fluid outer phase. Convective motion in the core generates electric currents through dynamo action, and these, in turn, generate the geomagnetic field.The atmospheric conditions have been significantly altered from the original conditions by the presence of life-forms,WEB, September 11, 2005,weblink Calculations favor reducing atmosphere for early Earth, Science Daily, January 6, 2007, which create an ecological balance that stabilizes the surface conditions. Despite the wide regional variations in climate by latitude and other geographic factors, the long-term average global climate is quite stable during interglacial periods,WEB,weblink Past Climate Change, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, January 7, 2007, and variations of a degree or two of average global temperature have historically had major effects on the ecological balance, and on the actual geography of the Earth.WEB, Hugh Anderson, Bernard Walter, March 28, 1997,weblink History of Climate Change, NASA, January 7, 2007,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20080123130745weblink">weblink January 23, 2008, WEB, Weart, Spencer, June 2006,weblink The Discovery of Global Warming, American Institute of Physics, January 7, 2007,

Geology

Geology is the science and study of the solid and liquid matter that constitutes the Earth. The field of geology encompasses the study of the composition, structure, physical properties, dynamics, and history of Earth materials, and the processes by which they are formed, moved, and changed. The field is a major academic discipline, and is also important for mineral and hydrocarbon extraction, knowledge about and mitigation of natural hazards, some Geotechnical engineering fields, and understanding past climates and environments.

Geological evolution

File:Tectonic plate boundaries.png|thumb|left|upright=1.3|Three types of geological plate tectonicplate tectonicThe geology of an area evolves through time as rock units are deposited and inserted and deformational processes change their shapes and locations.Rock units are first emplaced either by deposition onto the surface or intrude into the overlying rock. Deposition can occur when sediments settle onto the surface of the Earth and later lithify into sedimentary rock, or when as volcanic material such as volcanic ash or lava flows, blanket the surface. Igneous intrusions such as batholiths, laccoliths, dikes, and sills, push upwards into the overlying rock, and crystallize as they intrude.After the initial sequence of rocks has been deposited, the rock units can be deformed and/or metamorphosed. Deformation typically occurs as a result of horizontal shortening, horizontal extension, or side-to-side (strike-slip) motion. These structural regimes broadly relate to convergent boundaries, divergent boundaries, and transform boundaries, respectively, between tectonic plates.

Historical perspective

File:Pangea animation 03.gif|thumb|300px|An animation showing the movement of the continents from the separation of PangaeaPangaeaEarth is estimated to have formed 4.54 billion years ago from the solar nebula, along with the Sun and other planets.BOOK, G. Brent, Dalrymple, 1991, The Age of the Earth, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 978-0-8047-1569-0, The moon formed roughly 20 million years later. Initially molten, the outer layer of the Earth cooled, resulting in the solid crust. Outgassing and volcanic activity produced the primordial atmosphere. Condensing water vapor, most or all of which came from ice delivered by comets, produced the oceans and other water sources.JOURNAL, A., Morbidelli, etal, 2000, 2000M&PS...35.1309M, Source Regions and Time Scales for the Delivery of Water to Earth, Meteoritics & Planetary Science, 35, 6, 1309–20, 10.1111/j.1945-5100.2000.tb01518.x, The highly energetic chemistry is believed to have produced a self-replicating molecule around 4 billion years ago.NEWS, Earth's Oldest Mineral Grains Suggest an Early Start for Life, NASA Astrobiology Institute, December 24, 2001,weblink May 24, 2006, yes,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20060928231649weblink">weblink September 28, 2006, File:Hyperia.jpg|thumb|left|PlanktonPlanktonContinents formed, then broke up and reformed as the surface of Earth reshaped over hundreds of millions of years, occasionally combining to make a supercontinent. Roughly 750 million years ago, the earliest known supercontinent Rodinia, began to break apart. The continents later recombined to form Pannotia which broke apart about 540 million years ago, then finally Pangaea, which broke apart about 180 million years ago.JOURNAL, J.B., Murphy, R.D. Nance, 2004,weblink How do supercontinents assemble?, American Scientist, 92, 4, 10.1511/2004.4.324, 324, During the Neoproterozoic era, freezing temperatures covered much of the Earth in glaciers and ice sheets. This hypothesis has been termed the "Snowball Earth", and it is of particular interest as it precedes the Cambrian explosion in which multicellular life forms began to proliferate about 530–540 million years ago.BOOK, J.L., Kirschvink, 1992, Late Proterozoic Low-Latitude Global Glaciation: The Snowball Earth,weblink The Proterozoic Biosphere, J.W. Schopf, C. Klein, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 51–52, 978-0-521-36615-1, Since the Cambrian explosion there have been five distinctly identifiable mass extinctions.JOURNAL, Raup, David M., J. John Sepkoski Jr., March 1982, Mass extinctions in the marine fossil record, Science, 215, 4539, 1501–03, 10.1126/science.215.4539.1501, 17788674, 1982Sci...215.1501R, The last mass extinction occurred some 66 million years ago, when a meteorite collision probably triggered the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs and other large reptiles, but spared small animals such as mammals. Over the past 66 million years, mammalian life diversified.BOOK, Margulis, Lynn, Dorian Sagan, 1995, What is Life?, Simon & Schuster, New York, 978-0-684-81326-4, 145, Several million years ago, a species of small African ape gained the ability to stand upright. The subsequent advent of human life, and the development of agriculture and further civilization allowed humans to affect the Earth more rapidly than any previous life form, affecting both the nature and quantity of other organisms as well as global climate. By comparison, the Great Oxygenation Event, produced by the proliferation of algae during the Siderian period, required about 300 million years to culminate.The present era is classified as part of a mass extinction event, the Holocene extinction event, the fastest ever to have occurred.JOURNAL, Diamond J, The present, past and future of human-caused extinctions, Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 325, 1228, 469–76; discussion 476–77, 1989, 2574887, 10.1098/rstb.1989.0100, Ashmole, N. P., Purves, P. E., 1989RSPTB.325..469D, JOURNAL, Novacek M, Cleland E, The current biodiversity extinction event: scenarios for mitigation and recovery, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 98, 10, 2001, 11344295, 10.1073/pnas.091093698, 33235, 2001PNAS...98.5466N, 5466–70, Some, such as E. O. Wilson of Harvard University, predict that human destruction of the biosphere could cause the extinction of one-half of all species in the next 100 years.JOURNAL, The mid-Holocene extinction of silver fir (Abies alba) in the Southern Alps: a consequence of forest fires? Palaeobotanical records and forest simulations, 10.1007/s00334-006-0051-0, 2006, Wick, Lucia, Möhl, Adrian, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 15, 4, 435–44, The extent of the current extinction event is still being researched, debated and calculated by biologists.The Holocene Extinction. Park.org. Retrieved on November 3, 2016.Mass Extinctions Of The Phanerozoic Menu. Park.org. Retrieved on November 3, 2016.Patterns of Extinction. Park.org. Retrieved on November 3, 2016.{{clear right}}

Atmosphere, climate, and weather

File:Top of Atmosphere.jpg|thumb|Blue light is scattered more than other wavelengths by the gases in the atmosphere, giving the Earth a blue halo when seen from space]]The Earth's atmosphere is a key factor in sustaining the ecosystem. The thin layer of gases that envelops the Earth is held in place by gravity. Air is mostly nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, with much smaller amounts of carbon dioxide, argon, etc. The atmospheric pressure declines steadily with altitude. The ozone layer plays an important role in depleting the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that reaches the surface. As DNA is readily damaged by UV light, this serves to protect life at the surface. The atmosphere also retains heat during the night, thereby reducing the daily temperature extremes.Terrestrial weather occurs almost exclusively in the lower part of the atmosphere, and serves as a convective system for redistributing heat.BOOK,weblink Environmental Science: Problems, Connections and Solutions, Miller, G., Spoolman, Scott, September 28, 2007, Cengage Learning, 978-0495383376, Ocean currents are another important factor in determining climate, particularly the major underwater thermohaline circulation which distributes heat energy from the equatorial oceans to the polar regions. These currents help to moderate the differences in temperature between winter and summer in the temperate zones. Also, without the redistributions of heat energy by the ocean currents and atmosphere, the tropics would be much hotter, and the polar regions much colder.File:Lightnings sequence 2 animation-wcag.gif|thumb|left|LightningLightningWeather can have both beneficial and harmful effects. Extremes in weather, such as tornadoes or hurricanes and cyclones, can expend large amounts of energy along their paths, and produce devastation. Surface vegetation has evolved a dependence on the seasonal variation of the weather, and sudden changes lasting only a few years can have a dramatic effect, both on the vegetation and on the animals which depend on its growth for their food.Climate is a measure of the long-term trends in the weather. Various factors are known to influence the climate, including ocean currents, surface albedo, greenhouse gases, variations in the solar luminosity, and changes to the Earth's orbit. Based on historical records, the Earth is known to have undergone drastic climate changes in the past, including ice ages.File:Dszpics1.jpg|thumb|A tornado in central OklahomaOklahomaThe climate of a region depends on a number of factors, especially latitude. A latitudinal band of the surface with similar climatic attributes forms a climate region. There are a number of such regions, ranging from the tropical climate at the equator to the polar climate in the northern and southern extremes. Weather is also influenced by the seasons, which result from the Earth's axis being tilted relative to its orbital plane. Thus, at any given time during the summer or winter, one part of the Earth is more directly exposed to the rays of the sun. This exposure alternates as the Earth revolves in its orbit. At any given time, regardless of season, the northern and southern hemispheres experience opposite seasons.Weather is a chaotic system that is readily modified by small changes to the environment, so accurate weather forecasting is limited to only a few days.JOURNAL, Stern, Harvey, Davidson, Noel, May 25, 2015, Trends in the skill of weather prediction at lead times of 1–14 days, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 141, 2726–2736, Wiley, 10.1002/qj.2559/full, 2018-08-22, Overall, two things are happening worldwide: (1) temperature is increasing on the average; and (2) regional climates have been undergoing noticeable changes.NEWS, Tropical Ocean Warming Drives Recent Northern Hemisphere Climate Change, Science Daily, April 6, 2001,weblink May 24, 2006,

Water on Earth

File:44 - Iguazu - Décembre 2007.jpg|thumb|upright=1.4|The Iguazu Falls on the border between Brazil and ArgentinaArgentinaWater is a chemical substance that is composed of hydrogen and oxygen and is vital for all known forms of life.WEB,weblink Water for Life, Un.org, March 22, 2005, May 14, 2011, In typical usage, water refers only to its liquid form or state, but the substance also has a solid state, ice, and a gaseous state, water vapor, or steam. Water covers 71% of the Earth's surface.WEB,weblink World, CIA – The world fact book, December 20, 2008, On Earth, it is found mostly in oceans and other large bodies of water, with 1.6% of water below ground in aquifers and 0.001% in the air as vapor, clouds, and precipitation.weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20070320034158weblink">Water Vapor in the Climate System, Special Report, American Geophysical Union, December 1995.weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20080220070111weblink">Vital Water. UNEP. Oceans hold 97% of surface water, glaciers, and polar ice caps 2.4%, and other land surface water such as rivers, lakes, and ponds 0.6%. Additionally, a minute amount of the Earth's water is contained within biological bodies and manufactured products.

Oceans

File:Ocean from Leblon.jpg|thumb|left|A view of the Atlantic Ocean from LeblonLeblonAn ocean is a major body of saline water, and a principal component of the hydrosphere. Approximately 71% of the Earth's surface (an area of some 361 million square kilometers) is covered by ocean, a continuous body of water that is customarily divided into several principal oceans and smaller seas. More than half of this area is over {{convert|3000|m|ft|abbr=off|sp=us}} deep. Average oceanic salinity is around 35 parts per thousand (ppt) (3.5%), and nearly all seawater has a salinity in the range of 30 to 38 ppt. Though generally recognized as several 'separate' oceans, these waters comprise one global, interconnected body of salt water often referred to as the World Ocean or global ocean."Ocean". The Columbia Encyclopedia. 2002. New York: Columbia University Press"Distribution of land and water on the planet {{webarchive|url=https://web.archive.org/web/20080531103749weblink |date=May 31, 2008 }}". UN Atlas of the Oceans This concept of a global ocean as a continuous body of water with relatively free interchange among its parts is of fundamental importance to oceanography.JOURNAL, Spilhaus, Athelstan F, 1942, Maps of the whole world ocean, Geographical Review, 32, 3, 431–35, 10.2307/210385, 210385, The major oceanic divisions are defined in part by the continents, various archipelagos, and other criteria: these divisions are (in descending order of size) the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean. Smaller regions of the oceans are called seas, gulfs, bays and other names. There are also salt lakes, which are smaller bodies of landlocked saltwater that are not interconnected with the World Ocean. Two notable examples of salt lakes are the Aral Sea and the Great Salt Lake.

Lakes

File:Lake mapourika NZ.jpeg|thumb|Lake MapourikaLake MapourikaA lake (from Latin lacus) is a terrain feature (or physical feature), a body of liquid on the surface of a world that is localized to the bottom of basin (another type of landform or terrain feature; that is, it is not global) and moves slowly if it moves at all. On Earth, a body of water is considered a lake when it is inland, not part of the ocean, is larger and deeper than a pond, and is fed by a river.WEB,weblink Britannica Online, June 25, 2008, Lake (physical feature)
WEBSITE=DICTIONARY.COMTitan (moon)>Titan, Saturn's largest moon, which has lakes of ethane, most likely mixed with methane. It is not known if Titan's lakes are fed by rivers, though Titan's surface is carved by numerous river beds. Natural lakes on Earth are generally found in mountainous areas, rift zones, and areas with ongoing or recent glaciation. Other lakes are found in endorheic basins or along the courses of mature rivers. In some parts of the world, there are many lakes because of chaotic drainage patterns left over from the last Ice Age. All lakes are temporary over geologic time scales, as they will slowly fill in with sediments or spill out of the basin containing them.

Ponds

File:Mill Pond Sunset.jpg|thumb|The Westborough Reservoir (Mill Pond) in Westborough, MassachusettsWestborough, MassachusettsA pond is a body of standing water, either natural or man-made, that is usually smaller than a lake. A wide variety of man-made bodies of water are classified as ponds, including water gardens designed for aesthetic ornamentation, fish ponds designed for commercial fish breeding, and solar ponds designed to store thermal energy. Ponds and lakes are distinguished from streams via current speed. While currents in streams are easily observed, ponds and lakes possess thermally driven micro-currents and moderate wind driven currents. These features distinguish a pond from many other aquatic terrain features, such as stream pools and tide pools.

Rivers

File:View from Cairo Tower 31march2007.jpg|thumb|left|The Nile river in Cairo, EgyptEgyptA river is a natural watercourse,River {definition} from Merriam-Webster. Accessed February 2010. usually freshwater, flowing toward an ocean, a lake, a sea or another river. In a few cases, a river simply flows into the ground or dries up completely before reaching another body of water. Small rivers may also be called by several other names, including stream, creek, brook, rivulet, and rill; there is no general rule that defines what can be called a river. Many names for small rivers are specific to geographic location; one example is Burn in Scotland and North-east England. Sometimes a river is said to be larger than a creek, but this is not always the case, due to vagueness in the language.USGS – U.S. Geological Survey – faqs, No. 17 What is the difference between mountain, hill, and peak; lake and pond; or river and creek? A river is part of the hydrological cycle. Water within a river is generally collected from precipitation through surface runoff, groundwater recharge, springs, and the release of stored water in natural ice and snowpacks (i.e., from glaciers).

Streams

File:Hawaii Creek.jpg|thumb|A rocky stream in HawaiiHawaiiA stream is a flowing body of water with a current, confined within a bed and stream banks. In the United States, a stream is classified as a watercourse less than {{convert|60|ft|m|abbr=off}} wide. Streams are important as conduits in the water cycle, instruments in groundwater recharge, and they serve as corridors for fish and wildlife migration. The biological habitat in the immediate vicinity of a stream is called a riparian zone. Given the status of the ongoing Holocene extinction, streams play an important corridor role in connecting fragmented habitats and thus in conserving biodiversity. The study of streams and waterways in general involves many branches of inter-disciplinary natural science and engineering, including hydrology, fluvial geomorphology, aquatic ecology, fish biology, riparian ecology, and others.

Ecosystems

File:View of loch lomond.JPG|thumb|left|(Loch Lomond]] in Scotland forms a relatively isolated ecosystem. The fish community of this lake has remained unchanged over a very long period of time.JOURNAL, Adams, C.E., The fish community of Loch Lomond, Scotland: its history and rapidly changing status, Hydrobiologia, 1994, 290, 1–3, 91–102,weblink 10.1007/BF00008956, 2004HyBio.524..167W, )File:Aravalli.jpg|thumb|left|Lush green Aravalli Mountain Range in the Desert country-Rajasthan, India. A wonder how such greenery can exist in hot Rajasthan, a place well known for its Thar DesertThar DesertFile:Chicago Downtown Aerial View.jpg|thumb|An aerial view of a human ecosystemhuman ecosystemEcosystems are composed of a variety of abiotic and biotic components that function in an interrelated way.WEB, Pidwirny, Michael, 2006, Fundamentals of Physical Geography (2nd Edition), Introduction to the Biosphere: Introduction to the Ecosystem Concept,weblink September 28, 2006, The structure and composition is determined by various environmental factors that are interrelated. Variations of these factors will initiate dynamic modifications to the ecosystem. Some of the more important components are: soil, atmosphere, radiation from the sun, water, and living organisms.File:PenasBlancas, part of the Bosawas Reserve, Jinotega Department, Nicaragua.jpg|thumb|left|Peñas Blancas, part of the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. Located northeast of the city of JinotegaJinotegaCentral to the ecosystem concept is the idea that living organisms interact with every other element in their local environment. Eugene Odum, a founder of ecology, stated: "Any unit that includes all of the organisms (ie: the "community") in a given area interacting with the physical environment so that a flow of energy leads to clearly defined trophic structure, biotic diversity, and material cycles (i.e.: exchange of materials between living and nonliving parts) within the system is an ecosystem."Odum, EP (1971) Fundamentals of ecology, 3rd edition, Saunders New York Within the ecosystem, species are connected and dependent upon one another in the food chain, and exchange energy and matter between themselves as well as with their environment.WEB, Pidwirny, Michael, 2006, Fundamentals of Physical Geography (2nd edition), Introduction to the Biosphere: Organization of Life,weblink September 28, 2006, The human ecosystem concept is based on the human/nature dichotomy and the idea that all species are ecologically dependent on each other, as well as with the abiotic constituents of their biotope.BOOK,weblink Biotechnology Fundamentals, Khan, Firdos Alam, 2011-09-20, CRC Press, 9781439820094, en, A smaller unit of size is called a microecosystem. For example, a microsystem can be a stone and all the life under it. A macroecosystem might involve a whole ecoregion, with its drainage basin.JOURNAL, Bailey, Robert G., April 2004, Identifying Ecoregion Boundaries, Environmental Management, 34, 15883869, Supplement 1,weblink PDF, 10.1007/s00267-003-0163-6, S14–26, yes,weblink December 4, 2009,

Wilderness

File:Biogradska suma.jpg|thumb|Old growth European Beech forest in Biogradska Gora National Park, MontenegroMontenegroWilderness is generally defined as areas that have not been significantly modified by human activity. Wilderness areas can be found in preserves, estates, farms, conservation preserves, ranches, (:Category:national forests|national forests), national parks, and even in urban areas along rivers, gulches, or otherwise undeveloped areas. Wilderness areas and protected parks are considered important for the survival of certain species, ecological studies, conservation, and solitude. Some nature writers believe wilderness areas are vital for the human spirit and creativity,Botkin, Daniel B. (2000) No Man's Garden, Island Press, pp. 155–57, {{ISBN|1559634650}}. and some ecologists consider wilderness areas to be an integral part of the Earth's self-sustaining natural ecosystem (the biosphere). They may also preserve historic genetic traits and that they provide habitat for wild flora and fauna that may be difficult or impossible to recreate in zoos, arboretums, or laboratories.

Life

{{Life timeline}}File:Malards in Golden Gate Park.jpg|thumb|left|upright|Female mallard and ducklings – reproductionreproductionAlthough there is no universal agreement on the definition of life, scientists generally accept that the biological manifestation of life is characterized by organization, metabolism, growth, adaptation, response to stimuli, and reproduction.WEB, 2006,weblink Definition of Life, California Academy of Sciences, January 7, 2007, yes,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20070208220940weblink">weblink February 8, 2007, Life may also be said to be simply the characteristic state of organisms.Properties common to terrestrial organisms (plants, animals, fungi, protists, archaea, and bacteria) are that they are cellular, carbon-and-water-based with complex organization, having a metabolism, a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli, and reproduce. An entity with these properties is generally considered life. However, not every definition of life considers all of these properties to be essential. Human-made analogs of life may also be considered to be life.The biosphere is the part of Earth's outer shell â€“ including land, surface rocks, water, air and the atmosphere â€“ within which life occurs, and which biotic processes in turn alter or transform. From the broadest geophysiological point of view, the biosphere is the global ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships, including their interaction with the elements of the lithosphere (rocks), hydrosphere (water), and atmosphere (air). The entire Earth contains over 75 billion tons (150 trillion pounds or about 6.8×1013 kilograms) of biomass (life), which lives within various environments within the biosphere.The figure "about one-half of one percent" takes into account the following (See, e.g., BOOK, Leckie, Stephen, 1999, How Meat-centred Eating Patterns Affect Food Security and the Environment,weblink For hunger-proof cities: sustainable urban food systems, International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, 978-0-88936-882-8, yes,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20101113020336weblink">weblink November 13, 2010, , which takes global average weight as 60 kg.), the total human biomass is the average weight multiplied by the current human population of approximately 6.5 billion (see, e.g., WEB, World Population Information,weblink September 28, 2006, U.S. Census Bureau, ): Assuming 60–70 kg to be the average human mass (approximately 130–150 lb on the average), an approximation of total global human mass of between 390 billion (390×109) and 455 billion kg (between 845 billion and 975 billion lb, or about 423 million–488 million short tons). The total biomass of all kinds on earth is estimated to be in excess of 6.8 x 1013 kg (75 billion short tons). By these calculations, the portion of total biomass accounted for by humans would be very roughly 0.6%.Over nine-tenths of the total biomass on Earth is plant life, on which animal life depends very heavily for its existence.WEB, Peter V., Sengbusch, The Flow of Energy in Ecosystems – Productivity, Food Chain, and Trophic Level, Botany online, University of Hamburg Department of Biology,weblink September 23, 2006, More than 2 million species of plant and animal life have been identified to date,WEB, Pidwirny, Michael, 2006, Fundamentals of Physical Geography (2nd Edition), Introduction to the Biosphere: Species Diversity and Biodiversity,weblink September 23, 2006, and estimates of the actual number of existing species range from several million to well over 50 million.WEB,weblink How Many Species are There?, Extinction Web Page Class Notes, September 23, 2006, yes,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20060909194319weblink">weblink September 9, 2006, "Animal." World Book Encyclopedia. 16 vols. Chicago: World Book, 2003. This source gives an estimate of from 2 to 50 million.WEB,weblink Just How Many Species Are There, Anyway?, Science Daily, May 2003, September 26, 2006, The number of individual species of life is constantly in some degree of flux, with new species appearing and others ceasing to exist on a continual basis.WEB, Withers, Mark A., etal, Changing Patterns in the Number of Species in North American Floras, Land Use History of North America,weblink 1998, September 26, 2006, yes,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20060923054200weblink">weblink September 23, 2006, Website based on the contents of the book: BOOK, Sisk, T.D., 1998, Perspectives on the land use history of North America: a context for understanding our changing environment, U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, USGS/BRD/BSR-1998-0003, Revised September 1999, WEB, Tropical Scientists Find Fewer Species Than Expected,weblink April 2002, Science Daily, September 27, 2006, The total number of species is in rapid decline.JOURNAL, Bunker, Daniel E., etal, Species Loss and Aboveground Carbon Storage in a Tropical Forest,weblink Science, November 2005, 310, 5750, 1029–31, 10.1126/science.1117682, 16239439, 2005Sci...310.1029B, 10.1.1.465.7559, JOURNAL, Wilcox, Bruce A., Amphibian Decline: More Support for Biocomplexity as a Research Paradigm, EcoHealth, 2006, 3, 1, 10.1007/s10393-005-0013-5, 1–2, BOOK, Clarke, Robin, Robert Lamb, Dilys Roe Ward, 2002, Global environment outlook 3: past, present and future perspectives, Decline and loss of species,weblink Nairobi, Kenya: UNEP, London; Sterling, VA, 978-92-807-2087-7,

Evolution

File:Amazon Manaus forest.jpg|thumb|An area of the Amazon Rainforest shared between Colombia and Brazil. The tropical rainforests of South America contain the largest diversity of species on (Earth]].WEB,weblink Why the Amazon Rainforest is So Rich in Species: News, Earthobservatory.nasa.gov, December 5, 2005, May 14, 2011, yes,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20110225204348weblink">weblink February 25, 2011, WEB,weblink Why The Amazon Rainforest Is So Rich in Species, Sciencedaily.com, December 5, 2005, May 14, 2011, yes,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20110225204348weblink">weblink February 25, 2011, )The origin of life on Earth is not well understood, but it is known to have occurred at least 3.5 billion years ago,Schopf, JW, Kudryavtsev, AB, Czaja, AD, and Tripathi, AB. (2007). Evidence of Archean life: Stromatolites and microfossils. Precambrian Research 158: 141–55.JOURNAL, Schopf, JW, 2006, Fossil evidence of Archaean life, 10.1098/rstb.2006.1834, Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 361, 1470, 869–85, 16754604, 1578735, BOOK, Peter Hamilton Raven, George Brooks Johnson, Biology,weblink July 7, 2013, 2002, McGraw-Hill Education, 978-0-07-112261-0, 68, during the hadean or archean eons on a primordial Earth that had a substantially different environment than is found at present.JOURNAL, Line, M., The enigma of the origin of life and its timing, Microbiology, 148, Pt 1, 21–27, January 1, 2002, 11782495, 10.1099/00221287-148-1-21, These life forms possessed the basic traits of self-replication and inheritable traits. Once life had appeared, the process of evolution by natural selection resulted in the development of ever-more diverse life forms.Species that were unable to adapt to the changing environment and competition from other life forms became extinct. However, the fossil record retains evidence of many of these older species. Current fossil and DNA evidence shows that all existing species can trace a continual ancestry back to the first primitive life forms.When basic forms of plant life developed the process of photosynthesis the sun's energy could be harvested to create conditions which allowed for more complex life forms.BOOK,weblink Nature, PediaPress, en, {{unreliable source?|date=September 2018}} The resultant oxygen accumulated in the atmosphere and gave rise to the ozone layer. The incorporation of smaller cells within larger ones resulted in the development of yet more complex cells called eukaryotes.JOURNAL, L. V., Berkner, L. C. Marshall, May 1965, On the Origin and Rise of Oxygen Concentration in the Earth's Atmosphere, Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 22, 3, 225–61, 10.1175/1520-0469(1965)0222.0.CO;2, 1965JAtS...22..225B, 1965, Cells within colonies became increasingly specialized, resulting in true multicellular organisms. With the ozone layer absorbing harmful ultraviolet radiation, life colonized the surface of Earth.

Microbes

File:Yellow mite (Tydeidae) Lorryia formosa 2 edit.jpg|thumb|upright|A microscopic mite Lorryia formosa.]]The first form of life to develop on the Earth were microbes, and they remained the only form of life until about a billion years ago when multi-cellular organisms began to appear.JOURNAL, Schopf J, Disparate rates, differing fates: tempo and mode of evolution changed from the Precambrian to the Phanerozoic, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 91, 15, 6735–42, 1994, 8041691, 10.1073/pnas.91.15.6735, 44277
microscopic, and smaller than the human eye can see. They include Bacteria, Fungus>Fungi, Archaea, and Protista.These life forms are found in almost every location on the Earth where there is liquid water, including in the Earth's interior.JOURNAL, Szewzyk U, Szewzyk R, Stenström T, Thermophilic, anaerobic bacteria isolated from a deep borehole in granite in Sweden, 10.1073/pnas.91.5.1810, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 91, 5, 1810–13, 1994, 11607462, 43253, 1994PNAS...91.1810S, Their reproduction is both rapid and profuse. The combination of a high mutation rate and a horizontal gene transferJOURNAL, Wolska K, Horizontal DNA transfer between bacteria in the environment, Acta Microbiol Pol, 52, 3, 233–43, 2003, 14743976, ability makes them highly adaptable, and able to survive in new environments, including outer space.JOURNAL, Horneck G, Survival of microorganisms in space: a review, Adv Space Res, 1, 14, 39–48, 1981, 11541716, 10.1016/0273-1177(81)90241-6, They form an essential part of the planetary ecosystem. However, some microorganisms are pathogenic and can post health risk to other organisms.

Plants and animals

File:Diversity of plants image version 5.png|thumb|left|A selection of diverse plant speciesplant speciesFile:Animal diversity.png|thumb|A selection of diverse animal speciesanimal speciesOriginally Aristotle divided all living things between plants, which generally do not move fast enough for humans to notice, and animals. In Linnaeus' system, these became the kingdoms Vegetabilia (later Plantae) and Animalia. Since then, it has become clear that the Plantae as originally defined included several unrelated groups, and the fungi and several groups of algae were removed to new kingdoms. However, these are still often considered plants in many contexts. Bacterial life is sometimes included in flora,WEB, flora,weblink Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, September 27, 2006, BOOK, 1998, Status and Trends of the Nation's Biological Resources, Glossary,weblink Department of the Interior, Geological Survey, Reston, VA, SuDocs No. I 19.202:ST 1/V.1-2, yes,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20070715060359weblink">weblink July 15, 2007, and some classifications use the term bacterial flora separately from plant flora.Among the many ways of classifying plants are by regional floras, which, depending on the purpose of study, can also include fossil flora, remnants of plant life from a previous era. People in many regions and countries take great pride in their individual arrays of characteristic flora, which can vary widely across the globe due to differences in climate and terrain.Regional floras commonly are divided into categories such as native flora and agricultural and garden flora, the lastly mentioned of which are intentionally grown and cultivated. Some types of "native flora" actually have been introduced centuries ago by people migrating from one region or continent to another, and become an integral part of the native, or natural flora of the place to which they were introduced. This is an example of how human interaction with nature can blur the boundary of what is considered nature.Another category of plant has historically been carved out for weeds. Though the term has fallen into disfavor among botanists as a formal way to categorize "useless" plants, the informal use of the word "weeds" to describe those plants that are deemed worthy of elimination is illustrative of the general tendency of people and societies to seek to alter or shape the course of nature. Similarly, animals are often categorized in ways such as domestic, farm animals, wild animals, pests, etc. according to their relationship to human life.Animals as a category have several characteristics that generally set them apart from other living things. Animals are eukaryotic and usually multicellular (although see Myxozoa), which separates them from bacteria, archaea, and most protists. They are heterotrophic, generally digesting food in an internal chamber, which separates them from plants and algae. They are also distinguished from plants, algae, and fungi by lacking cell walls.With a few exceptions—most notably the two phyla consisting of sponges and placozoans—animals have bodies that are differentiated into tissues. These include muscles, which are able to contract and control locomotion, and a nervous system, which sends and processes signals. There is also typically an internal digestive chamber. The eukaryotic cells possessed by all animals are surrounded by a characteristic extracellular matrix composed of collagen and elastic glycoproteins. This may be calcified to form structures like shells, bones, and spicules, a framework upon which cells can move about and be reorganized during development and maturation, and which supports the complex anatomy required for mobility.

Human interrelationship

{{Human timeline}}File:Na Pali Coast - Kauai.jpg|thumb|left|Despite their natural beauty, the secluded valleys along the Na Pali Coast in Hawaii are heavily modified by introduced invasive species such as She-oakShe-oakAlthough humans comprise only a minuscule proportion of the total living biomass on Earth, the human effect on nature is disproportionately large. Because of the extent of human influence, the boundaries between what humans regard as nature and "made environments" is not clear cut except at the extremes. Even at the extremes, the amount of natural environment that is free of discernible human influence is diminishing at an increasingly rapid pace.The development of technology by the human race has allowed the greater exploitation of natural resources and has helped to alleviate some of the risk from natural hazards. In spite of this progress, however, the fate of human civilization remains closely linked to changes in the environment. There exists a highly complex feedback loop between the use of advanced technology and changes to the environment that are only slowly becoming understood.NEWS, Feedback Loops in Global Climate Change Point to a Very Hot 21st Century, Science Daily, May 22, 2006,weblink January 7, 2007, Man-made threats to the Earth's natural environment include pollution, deforestation, and disasters such as oil spills. Humans have contributed to the extinction of many plants and animals.Humans employ nature for both leisure and economic activities. The acquisition of natural resources for industrial use remains a sizable component of the world's economic system.WEB,weblink Natural Resources contribution to GDP, November 2014, World Development Indicators (WDI),weblink December 23, 2014, yes, WEB,weblink GDP – Composition by Sector, Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, February 19, 2017, Some activities, such as hunting and fishing, are used for both sustenance and leisure, often by different people. Agriculture was first adopted around the 9th millennium BCE. Ranging from food production to energy, nature influences economic wealth.Although early humans gathered uncultivated plant materials for food and employed the medicinal properties of vegetation for healing,WEB,weblink Plant Conservation Alliance – Medicinal Plant Working Groups Green Medicine, US National Park Services, September 23, 2006, most modern human use of plants is through agriculture. The clearance of large tracts of land for crop growth has led to a significant reduction in the amount available of forestation and wetlands, resulting in the loss of habitat for many plant and animal species as well as increased erosion.WEB, Oosthoek, Jan, 1999,weblink Environmental History: Between Science & Philosophy, Environmental History Resources, December 1, 2006,

Aesthetics and beauty

File:504px-Pinguiculagrandiflora1web.jpg|thumb|left|upright|Pinguicula grandiflora, commonly known as a ButterwortButterwortBeauty in nature has historically been a prevalent theme in art and books, filling large sections of libraries and bookstores. That nature has been depicted and celebrated by so much art, photography, poetry, and other literature shows the strength with which many people associate nature and beauty. Reasons why this association exists, and what the association consists of, are studied by the branch of philosophy called aesthetics. Beyond certain basic characteristics that many philosophers agree about to explain what is seen as beautiful, the opinions are virtually endless.WEB,weblink On the Beauty of Nature, The Wilderness Society, September 29, 2006, yes,weblink" title="web.archive.org/web/20060909220214weblink">weblink September 9, 2006, Nature and wildness have been important subjects in various eras of world history. An early tradition of landscape art began in China during the Tang Dynasty (618–907). The tradition of representing nature as it is became one of the aims of Chinese painting and was a significant influence in Asian art.Although natural wonders are celebrated in the Psalms and the Book of Job, wilderness portrayals in art became more prevalent in the 1800s, especially in the works of the Romantic movement. British artists John Constable and J. M. W. Turner turned their attention to capturing the beauty of the natural world in their paintings. Before that, paintings had been primarily of religious scenes or of human beings. William Wordsworth's poetry described the wonder of the natural world, which had formerly been viewed as a threatening place. Increasingly the valuing of nature became an aspect of Western culture.History of Conservation BC Spaces for Nature. Accessed: May 20, 2006. This artistic movement also coincided with the Transcendentalist movement in the Western world. A common classical idea of beautiful art involves the word mimesis, the imitation of nature. Also in the realm of ideas about beauty in nature is that the perfect is implied through perfect mathematical forms and more generally by patterns in nature. As David Rothenburg writes, "The beautiful is the root of science and the goal of art, the highest possibility that humanity can ever hope to see".BOOK, Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science and Evolution, Bloomsbury, Rothenberg, David, 978-1608192168, 2011, {{rp|281}}

Matter and energy

File:Hydrogen Density Plots.png|thumb|The first few hydrogen atom electron orbitals shown as cross-sections with color-coded probability density]]Some fields of science see nature as matter in motion, obeying certain laws of nature which science seeks to understand. For this reason the most fundamental science is generally understood to be "physics" â€“ the name for which is still recognizable as meaning that it is the study of nature.Matter is commonly defined as the substance of which physical objects are composed. It constitutes the observable universe. The visible components of the universe are now believed to compose only 4.9 percent of the total mass. The remainder is believed to consist of 26.8 percent cold dark matter and 68.3 percent dark energy.JOURNAL, Planck 2013 results. I. Overview of products and scientific results – Table 9., Astronomy and Astrophysics, P. A. R., Ade, N., Aghanim, C., Armitage-Caplan, et al. (Planck Collaboration), March 22, 2013, 1303.5062, 2014A&A...571A...1P, 10.1051/0004-6361/201321529, 571, A1, The exact arrangement of these components is still unknown and is under intensive investigation by physicists.The behavior of matter and energy throughout the observable universe appears to follow well-defined physical laws. These laws have been employed to produce cosmological models that successfully explain the structure and the evolution of the universe we can observe. The mathematical expressions of the laws of physics employ a set of twenty physical constantsWEB, Taylor, Barry N., 1971,weblink Introduction to the constants for nonexperts, National Institute of Standards and Technology, January 7, 2007, that appear to be static across the observable universe.JOURNAL, Varshalovich, D. A., Potekhin, A. Y., Ivanchik, A. V., yes, Testing cosmological variability of fundamental constants, AIP Conference Proceedings, 2000, 506, 503, physics/0004062, 10.1063/1.1302777, 2000AIPC..506..503V, 10.1.1.43.6877, The values of these constants have been carefully measured, but the reason for their specific values remains a mystery.

Beyond Earth

File:Planets2013.jpg|thumb|left|upright=1.3|Planets of the Solar SystemSolar SystemFile:NGC 4414 (NASA-med).jpg|thumb|NGC 4414 is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Coma Berenices about 56,000 light-years in diameter and approximately 60 million light-years from EarthEarthOuter space, also simply called space, refers to the relatively empty regions of the universe outside the atmospheres of celestial bodies. Outer space is used to distinguish it from airspace (and terrestrial locations). There is no discrete boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and space, as the atmosphere gradually attenuates with increasing altitude. Outer space within the Solar System is called interplanetary space, which passes over into interstellar space at what is known as the heliopause.Outer space is sparsely filled with several dozen types of organic molecules discovered to date by microwave spectroscopy, blackbody radiation left over from the big bang and the origin of the universe, and cosmic rays, which include ionized atomic nuclei and various subatomic particles. There is also some gas, plasma and dust, and small meteors. Additionally, there are signs of human life in outer space today, such as material left over from previous manned and unmanned launches which are a potential hazard to spacecraft. Some of this debris re-enters the atmosphere periodically.Although the Earth is the only body within the solar system known to support life, evidence suggests that in the distant past the planet Mars possessed bodies of liquid water on the surface.JOURNAL, Bibring, J, etal, Global mineralogical and aqueous mars history derived from OMEGA/Mars Express data, Science, 312, 5772, 400–04, 2006, 16627738, 10.1126/science.1122659, 2006Sci...312..400B, For a brief period in Mars' history, it may have also been capable of forming life. At present though, most of the water remaining on Mars is frozen.If life exists at all on Mars, it is most likely to be located underground where liquid water can still exist.WEB, Tariq, Malik, March 8, 2005,weblink Hunt for Mars life should go underground, Space.com via msnbc.msn.com, September 4, 2006, Conditions on the other terrestrial planets, Mercury and Venus, appear to be too harsh to support life as we know it. But it has been conjectured that Europa, the fourth-largest moon of Jupiter, may possess a sub-surface ocean of liquid water and could potentially host life.WEB, Turner, Scott, March 2, 1998,weblink Detailed Images From Europa Point To Slush Below Surface, NASA, September 28, 2006, Astronomers have started to discover extrasolar Earth analogs – planets that lie in the habitable zone of space surrounding a star, and therefore could possibly host life as we know it.Choi, Charles Q. (March 21, 2011) New Estimate for Alien Earths: 2 Billion in Our Galaxy Alone | Alien Planets, Extraterrestrial Life & Extrasolar Planets | Exoplanets & Kepler Space Telescope. Space.com.

See also

{{Wikipedia books}}{{div col|colwidth=20em}} {{div col end}}Media: Organizations: Philosophy:
  • Mother Nature
  • Nature (philosophy)
  • Naturalism, any of several philosophical stances, typically those descended from materialism and pragmatism that do not distinguish the supernatural from nature;{{Citation needed|date=April 2010}} this includes the methodological naturalism of natural science, which makes the methodological assumption that observable events in nature are explained only by natural causes, without assuming either the existence or non-existence of the supernatural
  • Balance of nature (biological fallacy), a discredited concept of natural equilibrium in predator–prey dynamics

Notes and references

{{Reflist}}

External links

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