The Earth - Geography and Geology

Author: Robert W. Penry @ 2023

Our World - the Planet Earth



The Earth is a water world.  It is covered by vast body of water known as the Great Ocean.  However, it is not a smooth planet.  Under the water are huge canyons, mountains, plateaus, and volcanos.  Sometimes these features rise above the water’s surface as land both continents and islands.

The Earth is also a world of fire.  Below its surface in both water and land, lie cracks and weak spots in a layer of the earth, we call its crust.  The earth is round like an orange.  Its crust is like the skin of the orange.  The Earth’s crust is between 18.6 and 43.5 miles thick.  Below the crust lies molten rock.  In weak spots in the crust, the molten area below protrudes through the crust and creates fiery protrusions, we call volcanos.  These can exist in both water and land.  The volcanos can sometimes erupt, spilling out molten rock, and grow larger, or explode and almost disappear.

The Earth is also a living planet.  Besides the water and the land, the earth is also surrounded by a layer of gases about 60 miles thick.  This layer contains oxygen, an element necessary for life.  Oxygen also exists in the water.  Living creatures can exist in the water, the land, and the air.  In the water, we have life that can swim or float.  On land, we have life that can walk or crawl.  In the air, we have life that can fly. On land and water, we have life that doesn’t move at all such as flowers, grass, shellfish and coral.

The Earth uses Time, Distance, and Location. Consider this problem. The distance from Chicago to New York City is 790 miles by rail.  A train leaves Chicago at 10:00 a.m. EST traveling an average speed of 55 mph enroute to New York. A train leaves New York at 10:30 a.m. EST at an average speed of 70 mph enroute to Chicago.  At what location and at what time do the trains pass? (The formula is:  If two trains leave x and y stations at time t1 and t2 respectively and travel with speed L and M respectively, then distanced from x, where two trains meet is = (t2 – t1) × { (product of speed) / (difference in speed) Time/Distance/Location are related.  Occupancy indicates who or what is at a particular location.  (Click the picture links above to read about Time, Distance, Location, or Occupancy)


Since living creatures rove across the surface of our planet, one creature, with the ability to reason. needed to understand direction and time to travel.  That creature was man.  Men realized that they needed to divide up the planet into recognizable areas.  So, man began naming areas and features of the planet (and also names for the living creatures).  Men also needed to know how long it took to travel from one point to another, so time itself needed to be defined. 

Men observed that features in the sky such as the sun, moon and stars appeared to move in determined cycles. 

In ancient Egypt, men invented shadow clocks (sundials) and placed 12 equally spaced marks from dawn to dark.  The dark divisions were based on the observation of stars. These distances came to be known as hours and thus the 24-hour day was defined.

The Babylonians decided to break the hour into sixty minutes and the minute into sixty seconds because their number system (sexagesimal) or counting in units of 60 was used for mathematics and astronomy.  They borrowed this number system from the Sumerians who developed it about 3500 BC. 


We divide the world into segments using lines running from the north to south pole and in lines running around the earth east to west.  (These lines are not actually drawn on the earth itself, just on paper)

The north south lines are called longitude or meridians.  The east west lines are latitude or parallels.

We know that a circle contains 360 degrees.  A line around the earth at the very center between the north and south poles is a circle called the equator that we can divide into 360 points. We can bisect each of those 360 points with a north south circle from pole to pole, creating 360 north south lines or meridians.  Distance around the earth needed to have a starting point of north-south measurement, so the 0 degree or prime meridian runs through the royal observatory in Greenwich, England.  Just as the equator divides the earth north and south, the prime meridian divides the earth in two, the east and west hemispheres.  From any point on the earth, we can determine which hemisphere we are in by seeing what direction from us is the prime meridian.  If Greenwich is to our east, then we are west of Greenwich and thus we are in the Western Hemisphere. On the opposite side of the planet from the prime meridian is the international date line.  This is the East-West dividing line for determining in which direction is the prime meridian. Since the prime meridian is at 0 degrees, the international date line is at 180 degrees E/W.  It is also used to determine time zones.  

We could have divided the earth horizontally into 360 parallel lines, but since the lines would become shorter as we moved north and south, the distance at the poles would be so mall, that it didn’t make sense to create 360 parallels, instead it was decided to have 90 north of the equator and 90 south of the equator, a total of 181 parallels including the equator who has a latitude of 0 degrees.

Each of the circles, both meridians and parallels, is called a degree.  A meridian then is either a east or west degree and a parallel is either a north or south degree.  (imagine an orange.  We first cut it into two pieces through the middle.  Then still holding it together, we cut in two from top to bottom.  We now have four pieces.  Each piece is either north or south of the first cut and also east or west of the second cut) This is like the earth.   


By using degrees latitude and longitude, we can point to a location on earth.  I live at 39 degree N and 83 degrees W. This defines the area between 38th and 40th parallels, a distance of approximately 69 miles and between 82 and 84 meridians 54.miles  (a block of land that indicates that I live somewhere roughly between Marysville to the North and Washington Court House to the south, Columbus to the East and Springfield to the west. 
This is a good start to announcing our location, but it is not accurate enough.  We need to divide the degrees more.  So, we divide each degree into 60 units we call minutes and then divide each minute into 60 units we call seconds, then each second is divided into 1000 units.  When we travel, we often divide distance into how much time it takes to cover the distance.  Since distance and time are related. minutes and seconds for distance made sense.
N 39°54’1.361” W 83°26’30.922” is where I am right now as I am typing this.  That set of coordinates is the location of my house on the planet Earth – London, Ohio, United States of America, Northern Hemisphere, Western Hemisphere.  It is accurate to a block of land 16 by 33 feet. Considering this is a single point on an entire planet, it is very accurate.  We have GPS units that we can carry or perhaps our vehicle has GPS that can measure to an even higher level of accuracy. 

Section III - Ownership/Possession/Occupancy/Use

 The earth is occupied by many species of plants and animals.  But occupancy is not ownership.  Who owns the planet earth?  We do, the human race.  This section will discuss the concepts of ownership, possession, occupancy and use.  They are not the same thing.

Ownership.  Theologically, God owns everything, but since he gave man control, all of the earth is owned by mankind.  This ownership can be at the personal, corporate, or governmental level. Ownership was obtained throughout history by exploration, settlement, and conquest.  At the basis of all ownership, is a set of laws and regulations at local, state, national and international level, along with legal documents such as treaties, deeds, contracts, licenses, or simply by uncontested possession.
Possession.  Just because a legal document grants ownership, it does not grant possession.  If I own a house, I can rent it to someone.  By a rental contract, I grant possession to the renter.  I still own it legally, but the contract grants what level of possession I maintain.  I obviously cannot enter without permission and raid the refrigerator and make myself a snack! (OK, most of the time. The rental contract may give me possession of trees on the property, or some other consideration.
Occupancy.  An individual owns a section of land on a mountain with a legal deed.  On this mountain are wolves, cougars, and bears who have dens.  These animals have occupancy and also possession.  Can the owner evict the animals and take occupancy?  Perhaps not.  Are there legal obstacles?  Are these protected animals by law?  The owner also has a stream running through his land.  Can he take any fish?  Perhaps not.  Are there regulatory seasons?  Are licenses required for hunting and fishing? Ownership does not always grant occupancy or possession or even use of the land.
Use.  I own a car.  Can I occupy it?  Certainly.  Can I drive it? Not legally without a license.  Ownership does not automatically grant use.
What about the seas surrounding a country?  The U.S. laws extend 24 nautical miles from the coast.  The U.S. by international law can control commerce for 200 nautical miles from the coast.  This means that no nation may fish, drill for oil, explore or collect underwater, or conduct military exercises within the 200 nautical miles without U.S. permission.  Of course, the international laws of the sea are the same for other nations.