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Potential to Kinetic

Potential to Kinetic:

Review of Energy


Throughout the course we have explored various forms of energy and have examined how we see energy transferred around our dynamic planet.

During this session we will examine changes in the earth’s surface due to the conversion of potential to kinetic energy.

But first, let’s review the kinds of energy.

Focus Question: What are some different forms of energy?

  • Solar/heat energy - drives winds, storms, and ocean currents.

  • Chemical energy - important in food chains and energy transfer within the biosphere.

  • Mechanical energy - a factor in the mechanical weathering of rock into fragments of loose material that often leads to rockfalls and landslides.

  • Gravitational Energy – the force of attraction between objects due to their mass. This controls rainfall, snowfall, landslides, movement of water downhill, etc.

  • Kinetic energy - energy associated with motion.

  • Potential energy - stored energy ready to be released and converted to other forms of energy, such as kinetic.

Classic physics example of potential to kinetic energy:

Pushing a ball uphill gives it potential energy. Then it falls down due to gravity, illustrating kinetic energy.


The transfer of energy in the Earth’s systems is fundamental to understanding the many processes that shape the surface of the Earth.

Potential to kinetic energy transfer is especially important in understanding the evolution of landforms.

Potential to kinetic energy transfer is the driving force behind wind and water movement leading to erosion and weathering.

Streams, rivers, currents and waves are all agents of energy transfer and are fundamental to shaping landforms on Earth.

Beach processes, sedimentation and landslides illustrates this energy transfer.

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