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Geology LibreTexts

1.4: The Four Earth Systems

Your text defines a system as any ordered, interrelated set of things and their attributes, linked by flows of energy and matter, as distance from the surrounding environment outside of the system.  Read the definitions of open system  and closed system  carefully, then list three examples of open and closed systems below, including lists of the inputs and outputs for an open system, and the cycle of material for a closed system.

Open System
Closed System

Feedback loops help to regulate natural systems.  Most systems maintain a structure of steady state equilibrium over time. That is not to say that they are always steady, but rather that the average state is that of equilibrium.  This is a phenomenon known as dynamic equilibrium.  An example of dynamic equilibrium might be the average daytime September temperature in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The ‘average’ daytime temperature might be 78 degrees (F), but the temperature on any given day is somewhat higher or lower than that. 

This topic is centered around the four earth systems, and the interaction of each system with the others.  The graphic below shows a Venn diagram as a way to visualize the interrelationship between the four earth 'spheres'. We will revisit this diagram throughout this course as we focus on the different ways that the regions of Physical Geography interact with each other.

Figure 1.4.1 Earth Systems

Read the definitions of each earth system carefully, then write down definitions for the following four earth systems in your own words.

Atmosphere

Lithosphere

Hydrosphere

Biosphere

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