Last modified on 6 April 2015, at 08:31

IB Environmental Systems and Societies

Welcome to the IB Environmental Systems and Societies wikibook. Feel free to contribute to this book, or ask questions on the discussion page. This book intends to act as an overview of the IB Environmental Systems and Societies Topics from the Syllabus.


Topic 1: Systems and modelsEdit

Assessment Statement: These are what the IB has designated as objectives for the unit.

1.1.1 Outline the concept and characteristic of systems.Edit

  • The emphasis will be on ecosystems but some mention should be made of economic, social and value systems.

1.1.2 Apply the systems concepts on a range of scalesEdit

  • The range must include a small-scale local ecosystem, a large ecosystem such as a biome, and Gaia as an example of a global ecosystem.

1.1.3 Define the terms closed system, open system, isolated systemEdit

These terms should be applied when characterizing real systems.

  1. An open system exchanges matter and energy with its surroundings (for example, an ecosystem).
  2. A closed system exchanges energy but not matter; the “Biosphere II” experiment was an attempt to model this. Strictly, closed systems do not occur naturally on Earth, but all the global cycles of matter, for example,the water and nitrogen cycles, approximate to closed systems.
  3. An isolated system exchanges neither matter nor energy. No such systems exist (with the possible exception of the entire cosmos).

1.1.4 Describe how the first and second laws of thermodynamics are relevant to environmental systemsEdit

  • The first law states "energy is neither created nor destroyed."
  • The second law states that the entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time. What this really means is that the energy conversions are never 100% efficient. When energy is transformed into work, some energy is always dissipated (lost to the environment) as waste heat.

Entropy refers to the spreading out or dispersal of energy. As energy is dispersed to the environment, there will always be a reduction in the amount of energy pased on to the next trophic level.

Both laws should be examined in relation to the energy transformations and maintenance of order in living systems.

1.1.5 Explain the nature of equilibriaEdit

  • A steady-state equilibrium should be understood as the common property of most open systems in nature.
  • A static equilibrium, in which there is no change, should be appreciated as a condition to which natural systems can be compared.(Since there is disagreement in the literature regarding the definition of dynamic equilibrium, this term should be avoided.)

Students should appreciate, however, that some systems may undergo long-term changes to their equilibrium while retaining an integrity to the system (for example, succession). The relative stability of an equilibrium—the tendency of the system to return to that original equilibrium following disturbance, rather than adopting a new one— should also be understood.

1.1.6 Define and explain the principles of positive feedback and negative feedbackEdit

The self-regulation of natural systems is achieved by the attainment of equilibrium through feedback systems.

  • Negative feedback is a self-regulating method of control leading to the maintenance of a steady-state equilibrium—it counteracts deviation, for example, predator–prey relationships.
  • Positive feedback leads to increasing change in a system—it accelerates deviation, for example, the exponential phase of population growth. Feedback links involve time lags.

1.1.7 Describe transfer and transformation processesEdit

Transfers normally flow through a system and involve a change in location. Transformations lead to an interaction within a system in the formation of a new end product, or involve a change of state. Using water as an example, run-off is a transfer process and evaporation is a transformation process. Dead organic matter entering a lake is an example of a transfer process; decomposition of this material is a transformation process.

1.1.8 Distinguish between flows (inputs and outputs) storages (stock) in relation to systemsEdit

  • Identify flows through systems and describe their direction and magnitude.

1.1.9 Construct and analyze quantitative models involving flows and storages in a system.Edit

  • Storages, yields and outputs should be included in the form of clearly constructed diagrammatic and graphical models.

1.1.10 Evaluate the strengths and limitations of modelsEdit

A model is a simplified description designed to show the structure or workings of an object, system or concept. In practice, some models require approximation techniques to be used. For example, predictive models of climate change may give very different results. In contrast, an aquarium may be a relatively simple ecosystem but demonstrates many ecological concepts.

Topic 2: The ecosystemEdit

  1. Structure
  2. Measuring abiotic components of the system
  3. Measuring biotic components of the system
  4. Biomes
  5. Function
  6. Changes
  7. Measuring changes in the system

Topic 3: Human population, carrying capacity and resource useEdit

  1. Population dynamics
  2. Resources—natural capital
  3. Energy resources
  4. The soil system
  5. Food Resources
  6. Water resources
  7. Limits to growth
  8. Environmental demands of human populations

Topic 4: Conservation and biodiversityEdit

  1. Biodiversity in ecosystems
  2. Evaluating biodiversityand vulnerability
  3. Conservation of biodiversity

Topic 5: Pollution managementEdit

  1. Nature of pollution
  2. Detection and monitoring of pollution
  3. Approaches to pollution management
  4. Eutrophication
  5. Solid domestic waste
  6. Depletion of stratospheric ozone
  7. Urban air pollution
  8. Acid deposition

Topic 6: The issue of global warmingEdit

Topic 7: Environmental value systemsEdit