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AP Environmental Science Comprehensive Syllabus

AP Environmental Science Comprehensive Syllabus

Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems

Subtopic Number Subtopic  AP Points to understand
1,1 Introduction to Ecosystems
  • Ecosystem: An ecosystem is a community of living organisms and their interactions with each other and with the abiotic (non-living) components of their environment.
  • Abiotic components of an ecosystem: The non-living components of an ecosystem include factors such as air, water, sunlight, temperature, soil, and nutrients.
  • Biotic components of an ecosystem: The living components of an ecosystem include all the plants, animals, and microorganisms that live in that ecosystem.
1.2 Terrestrial Biomes
  • Terrestrial biomes: Terrestrial biomes are large geographical regions characterized by their climate, vegetation, and animal life.
  • Examples of Terrestrial Biomes:
    • Tropical Rainforest
    • Temperate Deciduous Forest
    • Taiga
  • Biodiversity Hotspots: Biodiversity hotspots are regions that are particularly rich in biodiversity and are under threat from human activities such as habitat destruction and climate change. 
1.3 Aquatic Biomes
  • Aquatic Biomes: Aquatic biomes are large bodies of water characterized by their salinity, temperature, and depth.
  • Freshwater and Marine Biomes
  • Intertidal Zones: Intertidal zones are areas where the ocean meets the land. They are characterized by their fluctuating water levels and are home to a variety of plant and animal species that have adapted to living in this challenging environment.
  • Open Ocean: The open ocean is the largest biome on Earth and is characterized by its deep, dark waters. It is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, including whales, dolphins, and sharks.
  • Thermal Springs: Thermal springs are aquatic ecosystems that are heated by geothermal activity. They are home to a variety of unique and often extremophilic species that have adapted to living in high temperatures and harsh conditions.
1.4 The Carbon Cycle
  • The carbon cycle describes the movement of carbon through the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and living organisms. Carbon is a vital component of living matter, and its cycling is critical for the maintenance of life on Earth. 
  • Photosynthesis: Plants take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it to build organic compounds such as sugars, releasing oxygen as a byproduct. This process is called photosynthesis.
  • Respiration: All living organisms, including plants, animals, and microorganisms, use oxygen to release energy from the organic compounds they consume, producing carbon dioxide as a byproduct. This process is called respiration.
  • Decomposition: When plants and animals die, their organic matter is broken down by decomposers such as bacteria and fungi, which release carbon dioxide as a byproduct.
  • Combustion: Combustion is the process of burning organic matter, such as fossil fuels and wood, releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
  • Fossil Fuel Formation
  • Human Impact on the Carbon Cycle
1.5 The Nitrogen Cycle
  • The Nitrogen Cycle is the process by which nitrogen is converted between its various chemical forms in the environment.
  • Nitrogen Fixation: Nitrogen fixation is the process by which atmospheric nitrogen gas (N2) is converted into a form that can be used by living organisms, such as ammonia (NH3) or nitrate (NO3-). 
  • Nitrification: Nitrification is the process by which ammonia is converted into nitrate by nitrifying bacteria. 
  • Assimilation: Assimilation is the process by which plants take up nitrogen from the soil and incorporate it into their tissues. 
  • Ammonification: Ammonification is the process by which organic nitrogen compounds are converted into ammonia by bacteria. 
  • Denitrification: Denitrification is the process by which nitrate is converted back into atmospheric nitrogen gas (N2) by denitrifying bacteria. 
1.6 The Phosphorus Cycle
  • Phosphorus: Phosphorus is an essential element that is required for the growth and development of plants and animals. 
  • Phosphorus sources
  • The phosphorus cycle is the process by which phosphorus moves through the environment. It involves the uptake of phosphorus by plants, the consumption of plants by animals, and the return of phosphorus to the soil or water through the decomposition of organic matter.
  • Managing phosphorus in agriculture and wastewater
1.7 The Hydrologic (Water) Cycle
  • The hydrologic cycle, also known as the water cycle, is the continuous movement of water between the earth’s surface and the atmosphere. The cycle consists of four main stages: evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and collection.
  • Evaporation: The process by which water changes from a liquid to a gas or vapor, typically due to heat from the sun. Evaporation occurs from bodies of water, soil, and plants.
  • Condensation: The process by which water vapor cools and changes back into a liquid form, forming clouds in the atmosphere.
  • Precipitation: The process by which water falls from the atmosphere in the form of rain, snow, sleet, or hail.
  • Collection: The process by which water that falls on land gathers into bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and oceans. 
  • Human Impacts on the Hydrologic Cycle:
    • Deforestation
    • Urbanization
    • Agriculture
    • Climate Change
    • Water Pollution
1.8 Primary Productivity
  • Primary productivity is the rate at which producers in an ecosystem, such as plants and algae, convert energy from the sun into organic compounds. 
  • Gross primary productivity (GPP): The total amount of organic matter produced by primary producers, such as plants, through photosynthesis.
  • Net primary productivity (NPP): The amount of organic matter produced by primary producers that is available for consumption by higher trophic levels, after taking into account the energy used by primary producers for respiration.
  • Factors that affect primary productivity:
    • Availability of sunlight
    • Temperature
    • Water availability
    • Nutrient availability, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus
    • Presence of pollutants or toxins
1.9 Trophic Levels
  • Trophic Levels refer to the hierarchical levels in an ecosystem, which are based on the organisms’ feeding relationships with other organisms. 
  • Autotrophs: Autotrophs are organisms that produce their food through photosynthesis or chemosynthesis. 
  • Heterotrophs: Heterotrophs are organisms that obtain their food by consuming other organisms. They are divided into various trophic levels based on their feeding habits.
  • Herbivores: Herbivores are organisms that feed on plants, which are the primary producers in an ecosystem. They occupy the second trophic level in a food chain.
  • Carnivores: Carnivores are organisms that feed on other animals. They occupy higher trophic levels in a food chain.
  • Omnivores: Omnivores are organisms that feed on both plants and animals, occupying multiple trophic levels in a food chain.
  • Decomposers: Decomposers are organisms that break down dead plant and animal material, releasing nutrients back into the ecosystem. 
  • Food Chains and Food Webs: A food chain is a linear sequence of organisms, each dependent on the next for food. 
  • Trophic Efficiency: Trophic efficiency refers to the amount of energy transferred from one trophic level to the next. 
1.10 Energy Flow and the 10% Rule
  • Energy Flow: Refers to the movement of energy through an ecosystem as it is transferred from one organism to another. 
  • 10% Rule: Refers to the idea that only 10% of the energy available at one trophic level is transferred to the next. This rule helps to explain why food chains tend to be relatively short, with only a few links between the primary producers and top predators.
1.11 Food Chains and Food Webs
  • Food Chains: A food chain is a linear sequence of organisms, starting with the producer and ending with a top predator, that shows the transfer of energy and nutrients through the ecosystem. 
  • Food Webs: A food web is a complex network of interconnected food chains that shows the transfer of energy and nutrients through the ecosystem. 
  • Producers: Producers are organisms, usually green plants, that can make their own food using sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. 
  • Consumers: Consumers are organisms that obtain their energy by feeding on other organisms. 
  • Decomposers: Decomposers are organisms that break down dead organic matter into simpler substances and recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem. 
  • Trophic Levels: Trophic levels are the different levels in the food chain that represent the transfer of energy and nutrients from one organism to another. 
  • Energy Pyramids: An energy pyramid is a graphical representation of the amount of energy that flows through each trophic level in the food chain. 

Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity

Subtopic Number Subtopic  AP Points to understand
2.1 Introduction to Biodiversity
  • Biodiversity refers to the variety of living organisms on Earth and the ecological roles they play. This subtopic covers the following subtopics:
  • Types of biodiversity: There are primarily three main types of biodiversity, namely genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecosystem diversity.
  • Measuring biodiversity
  • Threats to biodiversity
  • Conservation of biodiversity
2.2 Ecosystem Services
  • Ecosystem services are the benefits that humans receive from ecosystems, which are defined as communities of living organisms and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit. Some examples of ecosystem services include:
    • Provisioning services
    • Regulating services 
    • Cultural services
    • Supporting services
2.3 Island Biogeography
  • Island Biogeography is a study of the relationship between the size of an island and the number of species found on it.
    • Island Size
    • Island Distance
    • Island Shape
    • Island Age
  • Anthropogenic Effects: Human activities such as habitat destruction, introduction of non-native species, and pollution can also have a significant impact on the biodiversity of islands
  • Isolation: The degree of isolation of an island from other land masses or ecosystems can also affect its biodiversity. 
2.4 Ecological Tolerance
  • Ecological Tolerance refers to the range of environmental conditions within which a species can survive and reproduce. 
  • Factors that can affect ecological tolerance
2.5 Natural Disruptions to Ecosystems
  • Natural disturbances: These are events that can occur naturally in an ecosystem and affect its structure and function. 
    • Examples include wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions. These disturbances can cause temporary or permanent changes in the ecosystem and can affect the populations of species in it.
  • Ecological succession: This is the process by which an ecosystem recovers after a disturbance. 
  • Climate change 
  • Invasive species 
  • Overexploitation
  • Natural resource depletion
  • Disease outbreaks
2.6 Adaptations
  • Adaptations refer to the ways in which organisms have evolved to survive and thrive in their particular environment. There are two types of adaptations: structural and behavioral.
    • Structural Adaptations: These are physical features of an organism’s body that help it to survive in its environment. 
    • Behavioral Adaptations: These are actions that an organism takes to survive in its environment. 
  • Adaptation and Natural Selection
  • Adaptation and Climate Change
2.7 Ecological Succession
  • Ecological succession is a natural and gradual process of change in the composition of species in an ecosystem over time. 
  • There are two types of ecological succession: primary succession and secondary succession.
    • Primary succession occurs in areas where there was no previous ecosystem, such as a newly formed volcanic island or a retreating glacier. 
    • Secondary succession occurs in areas where an existing ecosystem has been disrupted, such as a forest fire or agricultural land that has been abandoned.

Unit 3: Populations

Subtopic Number Subtopic  AP Points to understand
3.1 Generalist and Specialist Species
  • Generalist Species: A generalist species is a type of species that can thrive in a wide range of environments and feed on a variety of different types of food. 
  • Specialist Species: A specialist species is a type of species that is highly adapted to specific environmental conditions and has a limited range of food sources. 
3.2 K-selected r-selected species K-selected and r-selected species are two contrasting reproductive strategies that organisms employ to increase their fitness and survive in different environments.

Examples of K-selected species include elephants, whales, and humans.

Examples of r-selected species include insects, bacteria, and some fish species.

3.3 Survivorship Curves
  • Survivorship curves are graphical representations of the number of individuals in a population that survive to different ages. The curves are classified into three types based on the pattern of survivorship: Type I, Type II, and Type III.
    • Type I survivorship curve (Large animals): This curve represents a population with a high survival rate in the early and middle stages of life, with a high probability of death in old age. 
    • Type II survivorship curve (Reptiles): This curve represents a population with a constant rate of survivorship throughout the lifespan, regardless of age. 
    • Type III survivorship curve (Small animals): This curve represents a population with a low survival rate in the early stages of life, but with a high survival rate for those individuals that survive past a certain age. 
3.4 Carrying Capacity
  • Carrying capacity refers to the maximum population size that an environment can support sustainably with the available resources. It is an important concept in population ecology and environmental science. 
  • Factors that influence the carrying capacity of an environment.
  • Ecological Footprint: Ecological footprint is the measure of human demand on nature or the total resources required to support human activities. It is a measure of human impact on the environment and helps in understanding the sustainability of our lifestyles.
  • Sustainability: Sustainability refers to the ability to use resources in a way that they are not depleted or damaged, and to maintain the health of ecosystems for the long term.
  • Overpopulation: Overpopulation refers to a situation where the number of individuals in a population exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment. Overpopulation can lead to environmental degradation, depletion of resources, and increased competition for resources, which can ultimately result in reduced quality of life for humans and other species.
3.5 Population Growth and Resource Availability
  • Population Growth: Population growth refers to the increase in the number of individuals of a particular species in a given area over a period of time. It is affected by several factors including birth rate, death rate, immigration, and emigration.
  • Resource Availability: Resource availability refers to the amount of natural resources such as water, food, and habitat, that are available to support a given population.
  • Population Growth Models: Different models have been developed to describe and predict population growth. Some of the common models include exponential growth model and logistic growth model.
  • Human Population Growth: Human population growth is a major concern due to the strain it places on the planet’s resources. Human population growth has been exponential in recent times due to factors such as improved healthcare, sanitation, and agriculture.
3.6 Age Structure Diagrams
  • Age Structure Diagrams: Age structure diagrams, also known as population pyramids, are graphs that show the distribution of different age groups in a population. 
  • Types of Age Structure Diagrams:
    • Expansive
    • Constrictive
    • Stationary. 
  • Factors Affecting Age Structure:
    • Birth rates
    • Death rates
    • Migration 
    • Social factors 
3.7 Total Fertility Rate
  • Total Fertility Rate (TFR): TFR is a measure of the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime if she were to experience the current age-specific fertility rates. It is an important demographic indicator that reflects the level of fertility in a population.
  • Factors influencing TFR: There are several factors that influence TFR, including social, economic, and cultural factors. These may include access to education and healthcare, cultural attitudes towards family size, availability of family planning services, and the age at which women marry and have children.
  • Effects of TFR on population growth
3.8 Human Population Dynamics
  • Age Structure: The distribution of people in different age groups in a population. Age structure diagrams are visual representations of the number of individuals in different age groups, often used to analyze population trends.
  • Population Pyramids: A type of age structure diagram that shows the distribution of a population by age and gender.
  • Population Growth: Refers to the increase in the number of individuals in a population over time.
  • Human Impacts on Population Dynamics: Human activities such as urbanization, deforestation, and pollution can affect population dynamics by altering the carrying capacity of an ecosystem or by changing the availability of resources.
3.9 Demographic Transition
  • The demographic transition model is a way to describe how a country’s population changes over time as it develops from a pre-industrial to an industrialized economic system.
  • Phases of Demographic Transition: The model has four phases: pre-industrial, transitional, industrial, and post-industrial. Each phase is characterized by specific demographic indicators such as birth and death rates, population growth, and life expectancy.
  • Factors that Affect Demographic Transition: Various factors can influence the demographic transition, including social, economic, and environmental factors. Examples include changes in medical technology, economic development, cultural norms, and government policies.
  • Impacts of Demographic Transition: The demographic transition has significant impacts on society, including changes in family structure, education, labor force, and resource consumption. The shift from high birth and death rates to low rates has implications for healthcare systems, economic development, and environmental sustainability.
  • Criticisms of Demographic Transition: Some critics argue that the model oversimplifies the complex relationships between population dynamics and development, and that it ignores the role of politics, power, and inequality in shaping demographic change.

Unit 4: Earth Systems and Resources

Subtopic Number Subtopic  AP Points to understand
4.1 Plate Tectonics
  • Plate Boundaries: Maps are often used to illustrate the location and types of plate boundaries. Plate boundaries are the areas where two tectonic plates meet and interact with each other, resulting in geological phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
  • Seismic Activity: Maps can be used to show the distribution of seismic activity, which refers to the occurrence of earthquakes and related phenomena such as aftershocks and tremors. Seismic activity is closely related to plate tectonics, as it is often caused by the movement of tectonic plates.
  • Volcanic Activity: Maps can also be used to illustrate the distribution of volcanic activity, which refers to the occurrence of volcanic eruptions and related phenomena such as ash clouds and lava flows. Volcanic activity is closely related to plate tectonics, as it is often associated with the movement of tectonic plates.
  • Geologic Hazards: Maps are commonly used to identify areas that are at risk for various geologic hazards, including earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions. These hazards are often closely related to plate tectonics and can have significant impacts on human populations and infrastructure.
  • Plate Movement: Maps can be used to illustrate the movement of tectonic plates over time, which can help scientists better understand plate tectonics and related phenomena such as the formation of mountains and ocean basins.
  • Paleomagnetism: Maps can also be used to illustrate paleomagnetic data, which refers to the magnetic polarity of rocks and sediments. Paleomagnetism is often used to study plate tectonics and can provide valuable insights into the movement of tectonic plates over geological time scales.
4.2 Soil Formation and Erosion
  • Soil Formation Processes: The formation of soil is a complex process that involves the interaction of physical, chemical, and biological factors. Some of the key processes involved in soil formation include weathering, erosion, deposition, organic matter accumulation, and biological activity.
  • Soil Horizons: Soil is typically divided into distinct layers or horizons, each with its own unique characteristics and properties. These horizons are formed over time as a result of the various soil formation processes and can provide valuable insights into the history and composition of a soil profile.
  • Soil Texture: Soil texture refers to the relative proportions of sand, silt, and clay particles in a soil sample. Soil texture can have significant impacts on soil properties such as water-holding capacity, nutrient availability, and drainage.
  • Soil Erosion: Soil erosion refers to the loss of soil due to natural or human-induced factors such as wind, water, or tillage. Soil erosion can have significant negative impacts on agricultural productivity, water quality, and ecosystem health.
  • Soil Conservation: Soil conservation refers to a variety of practices and techniques aimed at reducing soil erosion and preserving soil health. Some common soil conservation practices include conservation tillage, cover cropping, and contour farming.
  • Soil Degradation: Soil degradation refers to the loss of soil quality and productivity due to factors such as erosion, compaction, nutrient depletion, and pollution. Soil degradation can have significant negative impacts on human well-being and ecosystem health, and is a major environmental concern globally.
4.3 Soil Composition and Properties
  • Soil Components: Soil is made up of a variety of components, including mineral particles, organic matter, water, and air. Each of these components plays an important role in soil health and productivity.
  • Soil pH: Soil pH refers to the level of acidity or alkalinity in soil. Different plants have different optimal pH ranges for growth, and soil pH can affect nutrient availability and microbial activity in the soil.
  • Soil Nutrients: Soil nutrients are essential for plant growth and can be classified as macronutrients (needed in large quantities) and micronutrients (needed in small quantities). Common soil nutrients include nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.
  • Soil Organic Matter: Soil organic matter refers to the living and dead plant and animal materials in the soil. Organic matter can improve soil structure, water-holding capacity, and nutrient availability.
  • Soil Texture: Soil texture refers to the relative proportions of sand, silt, and clay particles in a soil sample. Soil texture can have significant impacts on soil properties such as water-holding capacity, nutrient availability, and drainage.
  • Soil Structure: Soil structure refers to the arrangement of soil particles into aggregates or clumps. Good soil structure can improve water infiltration, root growth, and nutrient availability.
  • Soil Porosity: Soil porosity refers to the amount of space or voids between soil particles. Porous soil allows for water and air movement, which is essential for plant growth and soil health.
  • Soil Water-Holding Capacity: Soil water-holding capacity refers to the ability of soil to hold onto water. Different soil types have different water-holding capacities, which can affect plant growth and soil health.
4.4 Earth’s Atmosphere
  • The Composition of Earth’s Atmosphere: The Earth’s atmosphere is composed of a mixture of gases, including nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and carbon dioxide. Trace amounts of other gases, such as methane, neon, helium, and krypton, are also present.
  • The Layers of the Atmosphere: The atmosphere can be divided into five distinct layers, based on temperature changes: the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere.
  • Greenhouse Gases: Certain gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor, are referred to as greenhouse gases because they absorb and re-emit radiation from the sun, which can lead to warming of the Earth’s surface.
  • Air Pollution: Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and industrial processes, can lead to the release of pollutants into the atmosphere, which can have harmful effects on human health and the environment. Examples include smog, acid rain, and the depletion of the ozone layer.
4.5 Global Wind Patterns
  • Global Wind Patterns refer to the dominant patterns of wind circulation around the Earth, which are influenced by a combination of factors, including the rotation of the Earth, the distribution of land and water, and variations in temperature and pressure.
  • Coriolis Effect: The Coriolis Effect is the apparent deflection of moving objects, including air masses, due to the rotation of the Earth. This effect influences the direction of global wind patterns, causing them to curve to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Hadley Cells: Hadley cells are large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns that occur near the equator. They are driven by temperature differences between the equator and the poles and are characterized by rising warm air near the equator and sinking cool air at around 30 degrees latitude.
  • Trade Winds: Trade winds are steady, easterly winds that blow towards the equator from around 30 degrees latitude in both hemispheres. They are a result of the Hadley cells and are important for global navigation and trade.
  • Jet Streams: Jet streams are fast-moving, narrow bands of wind that occur in the upper atmosphere. They are caused by differences in temperature and pressure and play an important role in shaping global weather patterns.
  • Monsoons: Monsoons are seasonal wind patterns that occur in certain parts of the world, such as India and Southeast Asia. They are characterized by a reversal of wind direction, with moist air blowing inland during the summer and dry air blowing seaward during the winter.
4.6 Watersheds
  • Watersheds refer to the area of land where all the water that falls in the form of precipitation drains to a common point such as a river, lake, or ocean. The study of watersheds is essential for understanding the movement of water through the environment and its effects on ecosystems, human populations, and economies.
  • Watershed Characteristics: This subtopic focuses on the physical and biological features of a watershed, such as the size, shape, topography, geology, soil, vegetation, and wildlife. These factors can influence the quantity and quality of water in a watershed, and thus, affect the health of ecosystems and human populations.
  • Water Quality
  • Water Quantity
  • Watershed Management
  • Watershed Governance
4.7 Solar Radiation and Earth’s Seasons
  • Solar radiation: Refers to the energy emitted by the sun, which drives many processes on Earth, including weather, climate, and photosynthesis.
  • Electromagnetic spectrum: The range of all types of electromagnetic radiation. It includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays, and gamma rays.
  • Solar spectrum: The range of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun, which includes all wavelengths of light, but is mostly in the visible and infrared ranges.
  • Insolation: Refers to the amount of solar radiation that reaches a particular area on Earth’s surface. It varies based on factors such as latitude, time of day, time of year, and atmospheric conditions.
  • Earth’s seasons: Caused by the tilt of the Earth’s axis relative to its orbit around the sun. The angle of the tilt results in different parts of the Earth receiving different amounts of solar radiation at different times of the year.
  • Solstice: Refers to the two times each year when the sun reaches its highest or lowest point in the sky at noon, resulting in the longest or shortest day of the year. The summer solstice occurs around June 21 in the northern hemisphere and December 21 in the southern hemisphere, while the winter solstice occurs around December 21 in the northern hemisphere and June 21 in the southern hemisphere.
  • Equinox: Refers to the two times each year when the length of day and night are approximately equal all over the world. The vernal (spring) equinox occurs around March 20-21 in the northern hemisphere and the autumnal (fall) equinox occurs around September 22-23 in the northern hemisphere.
  • Atmospheric circulation: Refers to the movement of air in the Earth’s atmosphere caused by differences in air pressure and temperature between different parts of the planet. This circulation helps to distribute solar radiation and heat around the Earth.
4.8 Earth’s Geography and Climate
  • Climate: Climate is the long-term average pattern of weather in a particular region, influenced by factors such as latitude, elevation, ocean currents, and prevailing winds. Climate affects the distribution of biomes, as well as human societies and economies.
  • Weather: Weather refers to the short-term atmospheric conditions in a particular place at a particular time, such as temperature, precipitation, humidity, and wind speed. Weather patterns are influenced by climate, as well as by local factors such as topography and land use.
4.9 El Niňo and La Niňa 
  • El Niño: A climate pattern characterized by warming of the surface waters of the tropical Pacific Ocean, which has significant impacts on global weather patterns. During an El Niño event, the trade winds weaken, and warm water that is typically found in the western Pacific moves eastward toward South America, resulting in changes to atmospheric circulation patterns.
  • Impacts of El Niño: El Niño can cause droughts in some regions and flooding in others, as well as changes to ocean currents, sea level, and marine ecosystems. It can also affect global weather patterns, leading to extreme weather events such as hurricanes, typhoons, and tornadoes.
  • La Niña: A climate pattern that is the opposite of El Niño, characterized by cooler than normal surface waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean. During a La Niña event, the trade winds strengthen, and the upwelling of cold water along the western coast of South America intensifies.
  • Impacts of La Niña: La Niña can cause the opposite effects of El Niño, including cooler and wetter conditions in some regions and droughts in others. It can also affect ocean currents, marine ecosystems, and global weather patterns.
  • ENSO: El Niño Southern Oscillation is the scientific term used to describe the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere in the tropical Pacific that results in the climate patterns of El Niño and La Niña.

Unit 5: Land and Water Use

Subtopic Number Subtopic  AP Points to understand
5.1 The Tragedy of the Commons
  • The Tragedy of the Commons is a concept that describes the depletion or degradation of a shared resource when individuals act in their own self-interest rather than in the best interest of the group as a whole. This often occurs because the individuals using the resource do not bear the full cost of their actions and thus have little incentive to conserve the resource.
  • Examples of common resources include air, water, and open grazing land. When individuals are allowed to use these resources freely, they may overuse or damage them because they do not consider the impact of their actions on others. This leads to a “tragedy” in which everyone ultimately suffers because the resource is no longer available or usable.
5.2 Clearcutting
  • Clearcutting refers to a type of logging that involves the complete removal of all trees in an area. It is often used for commercial purposes such as timber production, but can also be done for land development or agriculture.
  • Ecological impacts of clearcutting:
    • Deforestation and habitat loss
    • Soil erosion and degradation
    • Increased water runoff and risk of flooding
    • Loss of biodiversity and disruption of ecosystem processes
  • Economic impacts of clearcutting:
    • Short-term profits for logging companies and landowners
    • Potential loss of long-term benefits from ecotourism, recreation, and ecosystem services
  • Social impacts of clearcutting:
    • Displacement of indigenous and local communities who rely on forests for their livelihoods and cultural practices
    • Health impacts from air and water pollution caused by logging operations
  • Alternative forestry practices to clearcutting:
    • Selective logging, which involves removing only a portion of trees in an area
    • Sustainable forestry practices that prioritize the long-term health of the forest and its ecosystem services
    • Conservation and protection of old-growth forests and high biodiversity areas.
5.3 The Green Revolution
  • The Green Revolution was driven by the need to feed the growing world population, particularly in developing countries where hunger and malnutrition were widespread. It aimed to increase food production through the adoption of new farming techniques and technologies.
  • Positive impacts of the Green Revolution: The Green Revolution had a significant impact on global food production and helped to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in many parts of the world. It also helped to improve the incomes and living standards of farmers who adopted the new farming techniques and technologies.
  • Negative impacts of the Green Revolution: The Green Revolution had some negative impacts, including the overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which led to environmental degradation and health problems. It also resulted in the displacement of many small-scale farmers and contributed to the concentration of land ownership in the hands of large agribusinesses.
  • Sustainability of the Green Revolution
5.4 Impacts of Agricultural Practices
  • Soil Degradation: Agricultural practices such as monoculture, overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, and improper irrigation practices can lead to soil degradation. Soil degradation can lead to decreased soil productivity, reduced nutrient content, and soil erosion.
  • Water Quality and Quantity: Agricultural practices can also impact the quality and quantity of water resources. Runoff from fields can contaminate nearby water sources with chemicals and nutrients, which can lead to eutrophication and harmful algal blooms. Additionally, irrigation practices can deplete water resources, reducing the amount of water available for other uses.
  • Loss of Biodiversity: Agricultural practices can also result in the loss of biodiversity. Monoculture and intensive farming practices can lead to the loss of natural habitats, fragmentation of ecosystems, and the displacement of native species.
  • Climate Change: Agricultural practices contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions from livestock and fertilizer production, and changes in land use patterns. Additionally, climate change impacts agricultural productivity through changes in weather patterns, such as droughts and floods.
  • Food Security: Agricultural practices impact food security by influencing crop yields and availability of food. Sustainable agriculture practices can enhance food security by promoting food diversity and reducing food waste.
  • Socioeconomic Impacts: Agricultural practices can also have socioeconomic impacts on local communities. Large-scale commercial farming can lead to the displacement of small-scale farmers and the consolidation of land ownership. Additionally, changes in agricultural practices can lead to changes in labor demand, wage rates, and food prices, which can have far-reaching impacts on local economies.
5.5 Irrigation Methods
  • Surface Irrigation: A method of irrigation where water is distributed over the surface of the soil. This method is often used in agriculture and can be done through furrows, borders, or flooding.
  • Sprinkler Irrigation: A method of irrigation where water is sprayed over the soil in a manner similar to rain. This method is often used in residential landscaping and small-scale agriculture.
  • Drip Irrigation: A method of irrigation where water is delivered directly to the roots of plants through a network of pipes, valves, and emitters. This method is often used in commercial agriculture and can be more efficient than surface or sprinkler irrigation.
  • Center Pivot Irrigation: A type of sprinkler irrigation where a pivot system rotates around a central point, distributing water over a circular area. This method is often used in large-scale agriculture.
  • Subsurface Irrigation: A method of irrigation where water is delivered directly to the root zone of plants through underground pipes or drip lines. This method can be more efficient than surface irrigation and is often used in commercial agriculture.
  • Micro Irrigation: A type of drip irrigation where water is delivered in small amounts to individual plants through emitters. This method can be very efficient and is often used in greenhouse production or other intensive crop production.
  • Flood Irrigation: A type of surface irrigation where water is applied to the soil in a controlled manner through a series of furrows. This method is often used in large-scale agriculture.
  • Gravity Irrigation: A type of surface irrigation where water is distributed to crops through a system of canals or ditches, relying on gravity to move the water. This method is often used in arid regions.
  • Manual Irrigation: A method of irrigation where water is delivered to crops by hand, often using buckets or watering cans. This method is often used in small-scale agriculture and home gardening.
5.6 Pest Control Methods
  • Biological Pest Control: The use of natural predators, parasites, and diseases to control pests. This method is environmentally friendly and can be very effective, but it may not always work quickly or efficiently.
  • Chemical Pest Control: The use of chemicals to kill or control pests. This method is quick and effective, but it can also be harmful to the environment and other organisms.
  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM): A holistic approach to pest control that uses a combination of methods, such as biological and chemical control, as well as cultural practices and physical barriers to prevent and manage pest populations. This method is more sustainable and can help reduce the use of harmful chemicals.
  • Pesticide Resistance: The development of resistance in pests to certain chemicals due to overuse or misuse of pesticides. This can make it difficult to control pests with chemical methods and may require the use of alternative methods.
  • Pesticide Persistence: The ability of a pesticide to remain in the environment for a long time after its initial application. This can lead to the buildup of toxins in the environment and harm to non-target organisms.
  • Non-Toxic Pest Control: The use of alternative methods to control pests, such as trapping, crop rotation, and the use of pheromone traps. These methods are often more environmentally friendly and can be just as effective as chemical methods.
5.7 Meat Production Methods
  • Factory Farming: Factory farming refers to the intensive farming practices that are used to produce meat, eggs, and milk. These methods often involve keeping animals in cramped and unsanitary conditions and using antibiotics and growth hormones to increase their growth rates.
  • Grass-fed Livestock: Grass-fed livestock are animals that are raised on pastures and fed a diet consisting of grass and other vegetation. This method is considered more environmentally sustainable and animal-friendly than factory farming.
  • Feedlots: A feedlot is a type of animal feeding operation that is used to fatten livestock before slaughter. Feedlots often involve keeping large numbers of animals in a small area and feeding them a diet that is high in corn and other grains.
  • Antibiotic Use: Antibiotic use in meat production is common in factory farming, where animals are often kept in unsanitary conditions that can lead to the spread of disease. However, overuse of antibiotics can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can pose a threat to human health.
  • Animal Welfare: The treatment of animals in meat production is an important ethical consideration..
  • Environmental Impacts
  • Meat Consumption: Meat consumption is a major driver of meat production methods. The amount and type of meat consumed can have significant environmental and health impacts, with high levels of meat consumption being linked to increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
5.8 Impacts of Overfishing
  • Overfishing refers to the depletion of fish stocks in an aquatic ecosystem beyond the point where they can be replenished by natural reproduction.
  • Causes of Overfishing: Overfishing is caused by various human activities such as overfishing, destructive fishing practices, bycatch, and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
  • Impacts of Overfishing: Overfishing can lead to various ecological, economic, and social impacts, including the collapse of fish populations, habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, food insecurity, and economic losses for fishing communities.
  • Ecological Impacts: Overfishing can lead to changes in the composition and structure of aquatic ecosystems, including the depletion of target species, the loss of biodiversity, and the alteration of food webs and trophic interactions.
  • Economic Impacts: Overfishing can have significant economic impacts on fishing communities, including reduced fish stocks, lower catch rates, and increased costs associated with fishing. This can result in job losses, reduced income, and decreased food security.
  • Social Impacts: Overfishing can also have social impacts, including cultural loss and displacement of fishing communities. It can also lead to increased competition and conflicts between different groups of fishermen, as well as between fishermen and other resource users.
  • Management of Overfishing: Overfishing can be managed through various measures, including the establishment of fishing quotas, the use of sustainable fishing practices, the creation of marine protected areas, and the regulation of IUU fishing.
5.9 Impacts of Mining
  • Types of mining: Different types of mining, such as surface mining and underground mining, have different environmental impacts due to differences in the techniques used and the amount of waste generated.
  • Environmental impacts of mining
  • Human health impacts of mining
  • Mitigation of mining impacts
  • Mining regulations and policies
5.10 Impacts of Urbanization
  • Urbanization: The process of an increasing population living in cities and towns rather than rural areas. This process involves the development of cities, which may bring benefits such as better infrastructure, education, healthcare, and job opportunities.
  • Impacts of urbanization: Rapid urbanization has many negative impacts on the environment
  • Urban heat islands: Urban areas tend to be hotter than rural areas due to the heat-absorbing properties of concrete and asphalt, as well as the lack of vegetation. This phenomenon is known as the urban heat island effect.
  • Sustainable urban planning: Sustainable urban planning involves designing and managing cities to meet the needs of the present population without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  • Smart cities: Smart cities use technology and data to improve the quality of life for residents while reducing environmental impacts. 
5.11 Ecological Footprints
  • Ecological Footprint: It is a measure of how much land, water, and other natural resources are needed to produce the goods and services we consume and to absorb the waste we generate.
  • Types of Ecological Footprint:
    • Carbon Footprint
    • Water Footprint
    • Land Footprint
  • Biocapacity: It is the ability of an ecosystem or region to produce the renewable resources and absorb the waste generated by human activities.
  • Ecological Deficit: It occurs when the demand for resources and services exceeds the biocapacity of a region or ecosystem.

Factors affecting Ecological Footprints:

  1. Population size and growth rate
  2. Consumption patterns and lifestyles
  3. Technological efficiency
  4. Environmental policies and regulations
  5. Resource availability and accessibility
  6. Climate change and environmental degradation.
5.12 Introduction to Sustainability
  • Sustainability: Refers to the ability of a system or society to endure and maintain itself over time, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  • Three pillars of sustainability:
    • Economic sustainability: Refers to the ability of an economy to maintain itself over time, providing for the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
    • Social sustainability: Refers to the ability of a society to maintain itself over time, providing for the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
    • Environmental sustainability: Refers to the ability of an ecosystem or environment to maintain itself over time, providing for the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  • Sustainable Development: Refers to development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It involves balancing economic, social, and environmental factors.
5.13 Methods to Reduce Urban Runoff
  • Green Infrastructure: Using natural or engineered systems to capture and treat stormwater at its source, rather than allowing it to flow into the sewer system. Examples of green infrastructure include green roofs, rain gardens, and bioswales.
  • Permeable Surfaces: Replacing impervious surfaces such as concrete and asphalt with permeable materials that allow water to infiltrate into the ground. Examples include permeable pavement, porous concrete, and gravel.
  • Rain Barrels and Cisterns: Capturing rainwater from rooftops and storing it for later use in irrigation or other non-potable applications.
  • Constructed Wetlands: Engineered systems designed to mimic the functions of natural wetlands in order to capture and treat stormwater runoff.
  • Vegetative Swales: Landscaped channels designed to slow down and filter stormwater runoff. Vegetative swales are typically planted with grasses, shrubs, and other vegetation that help to absorb and filter pollutants.
  • Disconnecting Downspouts: Redirecting downspouts from rooftops to permeable surfaces or rain barrels can help to reduce the volume of stormwater runoff.
  • Retrofitting Existing Infrastructure: Modifying existing stormwater infrastructure such as pipes, culverts, and detention ponds to improve their ability to capture and treat stormwater runoff.
5.14 Integrated Pest Management
  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to managing pests that combines multiple methods to reduce pest damage while minimizing the use of pesticides.
  • Monitoring: Regularly checking for signs of pest activity to determine if control measures are necessary.
  • Prevention: Taking steps to prevent pest problems before they occur, such as using resistant plant varieties or keeping buildings well-maintained.
  • Cultural controls: Using practices such as crop rotation or pruning to reduce pest populations.
  • Mechanical and physical controls: Using physical methods such as traps or barriers to reduce pest populations.
  • Biological controls: Using natural enemies of pests, such as predators or parasites, to control their populations.
  • Chemical controls: Using pesticides as a last resort and only when necessary, and choosing the least harmful and most effective pesticide for the job.
5.15 Sustainable Agriculture
  • Sustainable Agriculture Practices: This subtopic deals with agricultural practices that focus on preserving the natural resources, minimizing environmental impacts, and maintaining the long-term sustainability of agriculture. 
  • Agroforestry
  • Water Management
  • Sustainable Livestock Production
  • Local Food Systems
5.16 Aquaculture 
  • Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic plants and animals. It is an alternative to traditional fishing methods and can provide a reliable source of seafood while reducing the pressure on wild fish populations.
  • Types of Aquaculture: There are several types of aquaculture, including finfish farming, shellfish farming, and seaweed farming.
  • Environmental Impacts of Aquaculture
  • Sustainable Aquaculture Practices:
  • Aquaculture Regulations
  • Aquaculture and Food Security
5.17 Sustainable Forestry
  • Sustainable forestry is the practice of managing forests in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  • Forest Certification: Forest certification is a process that verifies that a forest is being managed in a sustainable way.
  • Forest Management Practices: Sustainable forestry practices can include a variety of activities, such as selective logging, reforestation, and the protection of sensitive areas within a forest.
  • Sustainable Forestry and Climate Change
  • Examples of Sustainable Forestry Initiatives

Unit 6: Energy Resources and Consumption

Subtopic Number Subtopic  AP Points to understand
6.1 Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources 
  • Renewable resources are natural resources that can be replenished over time, either through natural processes or human intervention. Nonrenewable resources are finite and cannot be replenished once they are used up. Here are some subtopics related to renewable and nonrenewable resources:
  • Fossil Fuels: Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas are nonrenewable resources that are formed over millions of years from the remains of plants and animals. They a