6.1 Preface

This module explores applications of concepts presented in another module called ‘The First Law of Thermodynamics for Ecosystems.’ It focuses on three important ideas: (1) The classical definitions and Laws of Thermodynamics can apply to all biological systems; (2) The First Law of Thermodynamics is a conservation of energy law that allows a researcher to describe mathematically the heat fluxes of any system of interest; and (3) The heat and mass energy balance of organisms have important ecological consequences that are particularly relevant to understanding responses to climate change. A problem set provides examples of the relative importance of work, heat energy exchange, and mass flow.

Students should find this module useful for obtaining an understanding of how thermodynamics can be used in environmental sciences. The focus of this exposition is on the concepts developed in the module “First Law of Thermodynamics for Ecosystems” (Stevenson 1979), although a brief introduction to mass flow and the First Law is given. The problem set presents a variety of examples to further the student’s knowledge of relative importance of work and heat and mass flow. An extensive bibliography is included.