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Understanding Global Change Earth System Infographic

Global change is complex because the Earth is a dynamic system made up of many parts that interact through physical, chemical, and biological processes. The Understanding Global Change (UGC) Project at UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology developed an infographic to organize the complexity of global change processes and phenomena.

The Understanding Global Change Infographic organizes global change topics into three categories:

  • Causes of Change: Human activities (e.g. burning fossil fuels) are currently the primary contributors to global changes in Earth's climate and ecosystems. Non-human causes (e.g. volcanism) have caused changes in the Earth system throughout Earth's history, but are not causing global warming today.
  • How the Earth System Works: These are processes in the hydrosphere, geosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere that shape Earth through time (e.g. ocean circulation, the greenhouse effect). Changes to the global energy budget affect these Earth system processes. Elements, including carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, cycle within and between the spheres. All these processes together shape our global climate and ecosystems.
  • Measurable Changes in the Earth System: These are the changes that occur within the Earth system that scientists measure (e.g., temperature, precipitation, and biodiversity). These measurements (data) are evidence of global changes. The quality of human life is affected by measurable changes that impact our air, water, and food.

Concepts in these three categories are represented in the UGC infographic by icons. To explore the UGC Infographic at various levels of complexity, click and download the PDF files below.


HHMI Biointeractive Complex infographic Poster

Click for pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 841kB Aug1 19)

Complex infographic

Click for pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 841kB Aug1 19)

Simple infographic with spheres

Click for pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 550kB Aug6 19)

Simple infographic

Click for pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 550kB Aug6 19)


Additional versions of the infographic, including resources in Spanish and for grades 3-5, will soon be available on the UC Berkeley Understanding Global Change Website.

Want to learn how to construct explanatory Earth System Models? Visit the UGC Earth System Modeling Tools page or return to the Introduction to the UGC Resources.