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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The faces of nature

Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical universe, material world or material universe. “Nature” refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general. Manufactured objects and human interaction generally are not considered part of nature unless qualified in ways such as “human nature” or “the whole of nature”. Nature is generally distinguished from the supernatural. It ranges in scale from the subatomic to the galactic.mother nature2 The faces of nature
The word nature is derived from the Latin word natura, or “the course of things, natural character.” Natura was a Latin translation of the Greek word physis, which originally related to the intrinsic characteristics that plants, animals, and other features of the world develop of their own accord. This is shown in the first written use of the word, in connection with a plant. The concept of nature as a whole, the physical universe, is one of several expansions of the original notion; it began with certain core applications of the word φύσις by pre-Socratic philosophers, and has steadily gained currency ever since. This usage was confirmed during the advent of modern scientific method in the last several centuries.
Within the various uses of the word today, “nature” may refer to the general realm of various types of living plants and animals, and in some cases to the processes associated with inanimate objects, the way that particular types of things exist and change of their own accord, such as the weather and geology of the Earth, and the matter and energy of which all these things are composed. It is often taken to mean the “natural environment” or wilderness, wild animals, rocks, forest, beaches, and in general those things that have not been substantially altered by human intervention, or which persist despite human intervention. This more traditional concept of natural things which can still be found today implies a distinction between the natural and the artificial, with the latter being understood as that which has been brought into being by a human consciousness or a human mind.

Etymology

The word nature means the universe, with all its phenomena. Natura was a Latin translation of the Greek word physis, which originally related to the intrinsic characteristics that plants, animals, and other features of the world develop of their own accord. The word φύσις occurs very early in Greek philosophy, generally in similar senses to those of the modern English word nature. This is shown in the first written use of the word φύσις, in connection with a plant by Homer. The concept of nature as a whole, the physical universe, is one of several expansions of the original notion. This usage was confirmed during the advent of modern scientific method. The etymology of the word “physical” shows its use as a synonym for “natural” in about the mid-15th century.

Atmosphere, climate and weather

1 The faces of nature
The atmosphere of the Earth serves as a key factor in sustaining the planetary ecosystem. The thin layer of gases that envelops the Earth is held in place by the planet’s gravity. Dry air consists of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon and other inert gases, carbon dioxide, etc.; but air also contains a variable amount of water vapor. The atmospheric pressure declines steadily with altitude, and has a scale height of about 8 kilometers at the Earth’s surface: the height at which the atmospheric pressure has declined by a factor of e. The ozone layer of the Earth’s atmosphere plays an important role in depleting the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that reaches the surface. As DNA is readily damaged by UV light, this serves to protect life at the surface. The atmosphere also retains heat during the night, thereby reducing the daily temperature extremes.
Weather can have both beneficial and harmful effects. Extremes in weather, such as tornadoes or hurricanes and cyclones, can expend large amounts of energy along their paths, and produce devastation. Surface vegetation has evolved a dependence on the seasonal variation of the weather, and sudden changes lasting only a few years can have a dramatic effect, both on the vegetation and on the animals dependent on its growth for their food.
The planetary climate is a measure of the long term trends in the weather. Various factors are known to influence the climate, including ocean currents, surface albedo, greenhouse gases, variations in the solar luminosity, and changes to the planet’s orbit. Based on historical records, the Earth is known to have undergone drastic climate changes in the past, including ice ages.
The climate of a region depends on a number of factors, especially latitude. A latitudinal band of the surface with similar climatic attributes forms a climate region. There are a number of such regions, ranging from the
tropical climate at the equator to the polar climate in the northern and southern extremes. Weather is also influenced by the seasons, which result from the Earth’s axis being tilted relative to its orbital plane. Thus, at any given time during the summer or winter, one part of the planet is more directly exposed to the rays of the sun. This exposure alternates as the Earth revolves in its orbit. At any given time, regardless of season, the northern and southern hemispheres experience opposite seasons.

Plants and animals

The distinction between plant and animal life is not sharply drawn, with some categories of life that stand between or across the two. Originally Aristotle divided all living things between plants, which generally do not mo
ve, and animals. In Linnaeus’ system, these became the kingdoms Vegetabilia and Animalia. Since then, it has become clear that the Plantae as originally defined included several unrelated groups, and the fungi and several groups of algae were removed to new kingdoms. However, these are still often considered plants in many contexts. Bacterial life is sometimes included in flora, and some classifications use the term bacterial flora separately from plant flora.
Among the many ways of classifying plants are by regional floras, which, depending on the purpose of study, can also include fossil flora, remnants of plant life from a previous era. People in many regions and countries take
great pride in their individual arrays of characteristic flora, which can vary widely across the globe due to differences in climate and terrain.
mother nature3 The faces of natureRegional floras commonly are divided into categories such as native flora and agricultural and garden flora, the latter of which are intentionally grown and cultivated. Some types of “native flora” actually have been introduced centuries ago by people migrating from one region or continent to another, and become an integral part of the native, or natural flora of the place to which they were introduced. This is an example of how human interaction with nature can blur the boundary of what is considered nature.

Human interrelationship

Although humans currently comprise only about one-half of one percent of the total living biomass on Earth, the human effect on nature is disproportionately large. Because of the extent of human influence, the boundaries between what we regard as nature and “made environments” is not clear cut except at the extremes. Even at the extremes, the amount of natural environment that is free of discernible human influence is presently diminishing at an increasingly rapid pace, or, according to some, has already disappeared. The development of technology by the human race has allowed the greater exploitation of natural resources and has helped to alleviate some of the risk from natural hazards. In spite of this progress, however, the fate of human civilization remains closely linked to changes in the environment. There exists a highly complex feedback-loop between the use of advanced technology and changes to the environment that are only slowly becoming understood. Man made threats to the Earth’s natural environment include pollution, deforestation, and disasters such as oil spills. Humans have contributed to the extinction of many plants and animals. Humans employ nature for both leisure and economic activities. The acquisition of natural resources for industrial use remains the primary component of the world’s economic system. Some activities, such as hunting and fishing, are used for both sustenance and leisure, often by different people. Agriculture was first adopted around the 9th millennium BCE. Ranging from food production to energy, nature influences economic wealth.
Although early humans gathered uncultivated plant materials for food and employed the medicinal properties of vegetation for healing, most modern human use of plants is through agriculture. The clearance of large tracts of land for crop growth has led to a significant reduction in the amount available of forestation and wetlands, resulting in the loss of habitat for many plant and animal species as well as increased erosion.
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