Learn Earth Science Events (Div B)

Learn Earth Science Events (Div B)

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Hello and welcome!

My name is Michelle Li. I’m an Executive Team member and instructor here at ScioVirtual. I’m also Dynamic Planet Event Leader on Mason High School’s Science Olympiad team (2021 and 2022 National Champions).

Throughout my Scioly journey, one of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks is always creating my binders and cheatsheets at the beginning of each season. This issue stems mostly from the fact that each Scioly event encompasses such a large range of topics, so finding high-quality resources for each and every of these individual topics is basically a wild goose chase.

Thus, in hopes of making this study process more streamlined for you all out there, here is a compilation of my favorite earth science resources, along with tips for studying success.

What is Earth & Space Science?

Earth and Space Science is one of the four Science Olympiad domains, the others being Life Science, Physics and Chemistry, and Technology and Inquiry. As the name implies, it includes events pertaining to earth and astronomical sciences, including geology, meteorology, oceanography, astronomy, etc. All Earth Science events are study events, meaning students take a 50-minute written test and there is no lab or build portion.

The 2022-2023 Division B Events

Dynamic Planet

Related majors and careers: hydrology, geology, ecology, environmental science

Dynamic Planet is an event that dives into processes that change the Earth. The topic on which the event focuses rotates every year between hydrology, glaciology, oceanography, and tectonics. This year, it is hydrology – students will learn topics pertaining to Earth’s freshwater systems, including stream flow and drainage, groundwater and aquifers, lake formation and types, wetlands, and the effects of human activity on bodies of water. In terms of resources, students have a two-inch binder with which to take the test. Dynamic Planet is also a Division C event, so students can continue competing in it all through high school.


Related majors and careers: meteorology, climatology, environmental science

Meteorology focuses on understanding Earth’s weather and climate phenomenon. Topics covered include Earth’s atmosphere, energy balance, oceanic and atmospheric circulation, climate zones, and recent climate trends including climate change. This event also relies heavily on interpreting graphs and data, so it’s great for anyone who is analytical. Contestants bring two cheatsheets to competition. This event is most similar to the Division C event Remote Sensing.

Road Scholar

Related majors and careers: geology, topography, cartography, land surveying

Road Scholar deals primarily with maps – reading topographic maps, highway maps, and satellite and internet maps, as well as constructing your own maps and topographic profiles. The student-constructed map is a key part of this event, so I would recommend it to anyone who is precise and meticulous in drawing. The great thing about this event is that it rarely changes from year to year – it doesn’t have a rotating topic of focus like other events; so, once you learn it, you can continue competing in it for the rest of your Division B career before moving on to Geologic Mapping, Road Scholar’s Division C counterpart. Students can bring measuring devices and reference materials, such as the USGS Topographic Map Symbols sheet, to competition.

Rocks and Minerals

Related majors and careers: geology, mineralogy, petrology, mining engineering

Rocks and Minerals is about exactly what is stated in the name: rocks and minerals. Students learn general geology topics such as rock formation, the rock cycle, the chemical and physical properties of minerals, etc. The bulk of the event, however, centers around identifying and answering questions about a list of ~100 rocks and minerals. This means students will have to make an ID binder and memorize the general appearance and properties of each rock or mineral. ID events are time-consuming, but can also be a lot of fun once you get the hang of them. Teams use two-inch binders in competition. Rocks and Minerals is also a Division C event, but it rotates with Fossils, so you might not be able to compete in it every year.

Solar System

Related majors and careers: astronomy, physics and astrophysics, cosmology

Solar System is an event that explores celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole. The topic of focus this year is planet formation and structure. Students must understand the formation, structure, and properties of terrestrial planets, gaseous planets, moons, and minor celestial bodies. They may also be tested on general knowledge such as Solar System evolution, planetary missions, and surface-level orbital mechanics. Each team can use two pages of cheatsheets during competitions. This event is the precursor to Division C Astronomy.

Approaching the study process

Having good resources isn’t effective if you don’t have a good study process.

When you first start Scioly, or middle school in general, the best thing you can do for yourself is take time to develop efficient, sustainable study habits.

Here’s what works for me: I begin the year by Google-searching every topic listed on the Official Science Olympiad Rules and reading two or three good sources on each. (Look for credible sources like the NOAA, NASA, universities, etc.) As I read, I take notes on a document. When all these notes are done, I format, and this formatted document becomes my binder or cheatsheet.

To read my entire cheatsheet process, see here. For binders, see here.

Practice tests

Once my binders and cheatsheets are made, I commit to taking around one practice test per week. Take each test in a real testing environment — time yourself, don’t use outside resources, etc. Then, when I’m done, I take the time to grade each test and correct the questions I missed. By correct, I mean researching the topic of the question in-depth with a Google search and adding your findings to your binder or cheatsheet. By repeating this process weekly, you’ll compile a good variety of information.

1. Dynamic Planet

Teaching Manning’s equation in ScioVirtual’s Introductory Dynamic Planet course.
Teaching Manning’s equation in ScioVirtual’s Introductory Dynamic Planet course.

In a nutshell, Dynamic Planet is an event about processes that change the Earth.

The “process” that is focused on changes from year to year; it rotates between glaciers, oceanography, hydrology, and tectonics. Earthquakes and volcanoes was also a past topic but hasn’t been in rotation for a decade. The projected topic for 2022-23 is tectonics.

Dynamic Planet is a pure study event, so your success is determined solely by your ability to master a broad range of information and create a quality resource (Dynamic Planet is a binder event). So, here are my top study links and practice tests for each topic. (And a quick note: Dynamic Planet rules are often the exact same for Division B and Division C, so even if you’re a middle schooler, you can still use Division C tests to study! I actually recommend these for higher-level competitors, as they’re usually harder and higher quality.)

❄️ Glaciers

Glaciers was last in rotation in the 2018-19 season. At that time, the event focused on the types of glaciers, their impact on the environment through erosion and deposition, and how they provide insight into climate. Here’s an example of my cheatsheet from when I competed in this event (and it was still a cheatsheet event). My formatting was a bit questionable back then, but I still think it has a good amount of knowledge in terms of what is needed for a Division B test.

My favorite test from this season was probably the MIT Invitational, which is a public test set, so feel free to access it using the link above.

🌊 Oceanography

Oceanography was last in rotation in 2020-21. I divided this event into three large content areas: general ocean information such as properties and structure, features and processes related to the ocean, and ways in which water moves which included waves and tides. I think this division helped a lot in terms of organizing my learning.

Below is an Event Resource Sheet I created with links organized by these three content areas.

A good public set this year was Princeton. I also really liked the Yale oceanography test from the 2019-20 season, but unfortunately this one isn’t public — ask your team captains if they have it.

🌧 Hydrology

Hydrology was the topic for the 2021-22 season. This event was all about Earth’s freshwater, ranging from rivers and lakes to groundwater and wetlands. Rivers and groundwater especially cause large changes to our planet through weathering, erosion, and deposition. Here are some good links from this season.

A test I thought was pretty difficult and high-quality this season was from BirdSO Mini. Also, check out a test I wrote for the Mason Invitational!

🏔 Tectonics

This topic is the most difficult to predict, since it hasn’t been in rotation since 2017-18. It is the projected topic for next year, but regardless, plate tectonics is a key Earth science principal that you should at least have a general grasp of as an Earth science competitor.

When studying for old topics that have been out of rotation, I usually start by taking notes on the Scioly Wiki page for the year it was last in rotation. Also, whenever you see something on the Wiki page that is unfamiliar/not explained very in-depth, you should do your own Google search.

Afterwards, I try to find old practice tests that might give me a better idea of what the event encapsulates. For this, the MIT Invitational is especially helpful because their test archives go back to 2015. Tectonics was the Dynamic Planet topic in both 2017-18 and 2016-17, so I’d say both of those tests are worth checking out.

2. Road Scholar

First, before all else, print the USGS Topographic Map Symbols and put it in your binder.

Next, to learn how to read topographic maps. This is honestly fairly straightforward, as long as you understand the basic principles behind how these maps are made. The contour lines on the map connect points of equal elevation, and the elevation of the lines increases at a constant interval called the contour interval. The contour interval is written at the bottom of the map, but you can calculate it as well. Also at the bottom of the map is the scale (something like 1:24,000). This means one inch on the map equals 24,000 inches or 2,000 feet on the ground. This is helpful for questions asking for the distance between things.

Now, onto drawing maps. The document on the left contains notes I used for making maps (scroll down to the text that’s in red). Two quick notes: 1) For this section of the test, you want to make sure you have a ruler and protractor; you will have to draw straight lines and very specific angles so these tools are a necessity. 2) Becoming good at map drawing takes a LOT of practice, because there are different instructions on each test. For example, one test might ask you to draw a railroad; if you’ve never done a practice test involving a railroad before, you might not know how to do it.

Drawing maps was my favorite part of this event, but it took a lot of work to master. There was a period of time where I would take one practice test daily and only do the map-drawing section. You by no means need to practice this intensely, but you definitely need experience under your belt by the time you compete.

Finally, some tests will ask you to construct a topographic profile based on a topographic map. You’re basically drawing a cross-section of what a landform would look like if you cut it open, using only information from the map. I think the slides on the right provide a great overview of this process. This probably takes less practice than map-drawing to master, because all topographic profiles are made by the same process, but it’s still something you should remember to learn as its often a neglected portion of the test.

3. Solar System

This event covers the solar system — the history of the solar system, basic information about each planet, Newton’s and Kepler’s Laws, etc. In certain years there has also been a topic of focus, which since 2018 has been “terrestrial planets and other rocky bodies in the solar system,” but has also previously been “extraterrestrial water.” This event also rotates with Reach for the Stars, which is more similar to Division C Astronomy in that it covers stars and deep sky objects as opposed to planets. However, this guide will center around Solar System as that is the projected event for the 2022-23 season.

The link on the left is from ScioVirtual’s Introduction to Astronomy class. Starting from slide ten, it covers the formation of the solar system in addition to the characteristics of each planet. Solar System does address some extraterrestrial systems and planets such as HL Tauri, HR 8799, Kepler 138 — plus other solar system objects such as the moons of Jupiter and Pluto. However, the bulk of the event is still these planets, especially these planets outlined in the 2021-22 rules: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

ScioVirtual regularly runs Astronomy classes and has a plethora of experienced Astronomy competitors on our staff. If you’re interested in seeing more resources from past Astronomy classes, you can view this Google Drive folder. If you’d like live instruction in Astronomy, you can sign up for ScioCamp.

This document on the right contains notes from when I was studying for Solar System tryouts at Mason Middle School. The first couple of pages are pretty similar in content to the presentation above, but starting from page nine there is information about dwarf planets, the moon and tides (which is also covered in-depth in oceanography), Kepler’s Laws, famous astronomers, and notable satellites and missions. Between this document and the slides above, you should be able to get a very good base knowledge of Solar System!

3. Meteorology

Meteorology is the science of the atmosphere, and the projected topic of focus for the 2022-23 season is everyday weather.

To do well in meteorology, be ready to: 1) Understand complicated phenomenon such as three cells model, cloud formation, Milankovitch cycles, etc., 2) Practice identification of cloud types, atmospheric phenomenon, and more, and 3) Analyze and construct graphs and forecasts including isobar diagrams, weather maps, etc. Attached on the right is the cheatsheet that was used by the team that got second place at Nationals. The topic this year is also everyday weather, so it should cover very similar content.

Thus, Meteorology is a comprehensive event with different skills tested, which means you need the ability to think critically about and build connections between everything you learn. The article below gives a pretty good description of how to do that.

You can find some practice with problem solving through ScioVirtual class problem sets.

4. Rocks and Minerals

This event is essentially looking at pictures of rocks and minerals, identifying them, and then answering the following questions that ask you about said specimen. There’s also usually a general earth-based knowledge section as well as a specified one. Examples of topics from these sections may include tectonics and twinning.

A good amount of the event will depend on the quality of your binder, unless you’re just that godly to be able to memorize the copious amount of information this event requires. Still, competitors should familiarize themselves with the terminology and vocabulary. The document on the right includes the necessary terms to know that are used in describing the characteristics of rocks and minerals. It is compliments of Victoria Li, the New Jersey state champion in Rocks and Minerals.

Some food for thought

Famous scientist Thomas Huxley said:

"Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.”

If you want to change the world by solving challenging problems (or if you just want to do well on science tests), you need to understand a bit about everything. Real innovation happens through combining different subjects in a powerful way that no one has before thought of.