8 junio, 2024

Terrestrial subsystems: what are they and characteristics

The terrestrial subsystems They are four fundamental parts of the Earth that interact with each other and make possible the existence of life and ecosystems on the planet. Earth is the third planet in the solar system, after Mercury and Venus; It is the only planet in this system that has 4 such complex subsystems and the only one that harbors intelligent life.

Every type of thing or organism found on Earth can be classified into some subsystem. The 4 main subsystems of the Earth include masses of water, air, soil and living things. In turn, these subsystems are divided into other branches that help to classify more specifically all kinds of substances found on the planet.

The subsystem that encompasses living beings is unique in the solar system. It is suspected that there may be water on a moon of the planet Jupiter (called Europa); therefore, the subsystem that encompasses this element would not be exclusive to Earth.


Solar subsystems and their characteristics

The four main terrestrial subsystems are: the atmosphere, the geosphere, the hydrosphere and the biosphere. In some cases, the cryosphere is also included as an additional layer due to the significant presence of frozen liquid on the planet. However, ice is generally included within the hydrosphere.

The atmosphere refers to all the gaseous material that surrounds the planet (air, gases); For its part, the geosphere is made up of all the solid material on Earth (soil, rocks).

In the case of the hydrosphere, it encompasses all kinds of natural liquids (water in all its states) and the biosphere refers to any living organism, unicellular or multicellular, that inhabits the planet.


The atmosphere is the outermost layer of the Earth and contains all the air and the elements that develop in it, such as carbon dioxide.

It is made up of nitrogen for the most part, oxygen in a smaller quantity, argon in less than 1% of its totality and other gases in very small quantities. Carbon dioxide occupies less than 1% of the atmospheric totality.

The oxygen present in this layer is what makes respiration possible for multicellular organisms (mammals, reptiles, etc.). Nitrogen is mainly used by bacteria, and is used to produce other substances, such as amino acids.

Carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants for the process of photosynthesis, through which the oxygen that terrestrial beings breathe is generated.

All the planets in the solar system have an atmosphere, but the terrestrial one is the only one capable of hosting organisms such as humans and animals in natural conditions (without the help of breathing devices). Its composition makes possible the respiration and the complexity of the planet’s organisms.

The upper part of the atmosphere protects organisms from ultraviolet radiation, absorbs and emits heat to the lower part. There it cools or heats up, causing the different temperatures on the planet.


The geosphere includes all types of soil on the planet—whether warm or icy—the semisolid crust that lies beneath it, and the soft soil near the center of the planet.

The surface of the geosphere is quite irregular: it is made up of all the terrain that can be seen with the naked eye, such as mountains, canyons, hills and plains.

All the layers that make up the planet have different chemical compositions, which gives each one specific properties. For example, the outer layer contains soil that is quite loose and rich in nutrients, silicon, and oxygen.

The layer below this has large amounts of oxygen and silicon, followed below by a thicker one that has the same components along with a high amount of iron and magnesium.

Between this thick layer and the center of the Earth is a layer of nickel and iron, surrounding the core of the planet.


The hydrosphere contains all types of water present on the planet, whether in its liquid, gaseous or solid form. It has an approximate extension of 10 to 20 kilometers and is measured from the surface of the planet. It extends from the ground to the bottom of the sea and from the bottom of the sea to the atmosphere (in gaseous form: clouds, steam).

The portion of water on Earth that is not salty can be found in the form of rain, in rivers, lakes, and in ponds found in the subsoil of the planet. However, this type of water is the least found on Earth: 97% of the planet’s water is salty.

Salt water is found mostly in the oceans and its temperature varies depending on where you are in the world. The closer the water is to the poles, the colder its temperature. On the other hand, if it is near the Earth’s equator, its temperature will be higher.

The temperature of the water is what dictates the physical state in which it is found: if it is exposed to low temperatures it reaches a solid state when it freezes. On the other hand, if it is exposed to high temperatures it reaches a gaseous state when it evaporates.


The biosphere contains all living beings and organisms on the planet. This includes microorganisms, animals and plants.

The biosphere is broken down into ecological communities depending on the area in which they live. These communities where living beings develop are called biomes, and each biome presents specific climatic conditions. Deserts, plains, mountains, and jungles are all biomes on planet Earth.

Animals and plants make up various ecosystems whose composition in turn is unique, depending on the region they inhabit. The sum of all ecosystems is what makes up the biosphere as a whole.

Although living organisms cannot be seen from space, as their size does not allow it, one part of the biosphere can be clearly seen: plants. The shades of green on Earth seen from space represent the biosphere and can be clearly seen hundreds of kilometers away.

According to scientific knowledge so far, the Earth is the only solar body that has a complex biosphere and is definitely the only planet in the solar system that has the presence of plants and intelligent life.


Four different spheres of Earth, (nd). Taken from eartheclipse.com
Earth’s spheres, ETE Team. Taken from cotf.edu
The 4 Spheres of the Earth, M. Rosenberg. Taken from thoughtco.com
The atmosphere, Lutgens, FK, Tarbuck, EJ, & Tusa, D. (2001). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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