Earth systems and cycles are characterized by cause and effect relationships. All Earth processes are the result of energy flowing and matter cycling within and among the planet’s systems. Landforms and water distribution result from constructive and destructive processes. Physical and chemical interactions among rocks, sediments, water, air, and organisms produce soil. Water’s movements—both on the land and underground—cause weathering and erosion. Plate tectonics is the unifying theory that explains the past and current crustal movements at the surface. This theory provides a framework for understanding geological history. Mapping land and water patterns based on investigations of rocks and fossils can help forecast the proximity and probability of future events.
Natural processes can cause sudden or gradual changes to Earth’s systems. Some may adversely affect humans such as volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. Mapping the history of natural hazards in a region, combined with an understanding of related geological forces can help forecast the locations and likelihoods of future events.