The Four Spheres of Earth: Geosphere, Hydrosphere, Biosphere, and Atmosphere

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  • 0:06 Earth is Divided Yet Connected
  • 0:42 The Geosphere
  • 1:14 The Hydrosphere
  • 2:00 The Biosphere
  • 2:40 The Atmosphere
  • 3:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

Earth is made up of four distinct yet connect spheres. In this video lesson, you will learn about where each sphere is found on Earth, as well as some features commonly found in each.

Earth Is Divided Yet Connected

Earth is a very complex place. Although it looks like one large structure, it's actually got a lot going on that you may not see if you don't look closely. All of the processes on Earth are driven by four 'spheres,' which we describe individually, but are really all connected.

The names of each of these spheres come from Greek words that describe what they're made of: 'Geo' for 'ground,' 'hydro' for 'water,' 'bio' for 'life' and 'atmo' for 'air.' Let's look at each of the four spheres in a bit more detail to gain a better understanding of how they help make up the earth.

The Geosphere

Since 'geo' means 'ground,' the geosphere describes all of the rocks, minerals and ground that are found on and in Earth. This includes all of the mountains on the surface, as well as all of the liquid rock in the mantle below us and the minerals and metals of the outer and inner cores. The continents, the ocean floor, all of the rocks on the surface, and all of the sand in the deserts are all considered part of the geosphere. Basically, if it looks like solid ground, it's part of the 'ground' sphere.

The Hydrosphere

Knowing that 'hydro' means 'water,' you may have guessed that the hydrosphere is made up of all the water on Earth. This includes all of the rivers, lakes, streams, oceans, groundwater, polar ice caps, glaciers and moisture in the air (like rain and snow). The hydrosphere is found on the surface of Earth, but also extends down several miles below, as well as several miles up into the atmosphere.

Most of Earth's water is salty and in the oceans - about 97%. Two-thirds of the remaining 3% is frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps. Only 1% of the hydrosphere is liquid freshwater, and even most of this exists as groundwater down in the soil.

The Biosphere

With the prefix 'life,' this means that Earth's biosphere is composed of all of the living organisms on the planet. This includes all of the plants, animals, bacteria, fungi and single-celled organisms found on Earth. Most of this life exists no deeper than about 10 feet into the ground or about 600 feet above it.

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Additional Activities

Activities in the Spheres of Earth

In this research activity students will be learning about different processes that take place in each sphere of the Earth. Students will choose one activity or event that occurs on Earth and explain how it affects all four different spheres. For example, a student might choose to research how volcanoes work. They would learn about the processes in the geosphere that create volcanoes, how volcanoes affect life in the biosphere, how lava flow can affect oceans in the hydrosphere and how volcanic emissions can affect the atmosphere.

Student Instructions

Now that you're familiar with each of the spheres, we're going to be looking into activities or events that happen on Earth and affect all four spheres. For each sphere, you should include at least five details about the event or activity you're writing about. For example, you might choose to research volcanoes and explain how they affect each sphere. Make sure to use credible sources such as those from scientists, news outlets or universities. You should compile your research into a 1,000 word essay. To make sure you have all the information you need, please review the criteria for success below.

Criteria For Success

  • Students describe one event or activity that takes place on Earth and affects each sphere: geosphere, hydropsphere, biosphere and atmosphere
  • Students include at least five details for each event or activity
  • Research is from credible sources, such as National Geographic or World Wildlife Foundation
  • Research is compiled into an essay at least 1,000 words long

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