The Four Spheres of the Earth

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  • 0:01 Four Spheres
  • 0:32 Atmosphere and Biosphere
  • 1:42 Hydrosphere and Geosphere
  • 2:37 Boundaries and…
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Just as geographers divide the world into continents, scientists divide the world into four spheres, namely the atmosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere. This lesson introduces each of those.

Four Spheres

If you look at the planet Earth from space, it looks like a blue marble. There are white and gray streaks, as well as green and brown splotches. All in all, the result is a rather well composed whole. However, if you were to arrive from space and land on our planet, you would find that there are four very distinct spheres that make up the planet. Earth's four spheres are the atmosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere. However, while these each are very distinct, they're all interconnected. Before we get to all that, we have to land your spacecraft.

Atmosphere and Biosphere

Assuming that you have reached orbit around the Earth, the next step to exploring the planet Earth is entering the atmosphere. Extending more than 300 miles from the surface of the Earth, the atmosphere does a great deal for the other spheres. It blocks UV rays, provides an avenue for rain and snow to fall and provides the oxygen and carbon dioxide essential for life on Earth. The atmosphere is broken into different layers depending on their distance from the surface of the planet.

All of the life found on Earth makes up the biosphere. As humans, we very rarely leave the biosphere. In fact, even when we fly above 1000 feet, we take enough of the biosphere with us to make sure that we survive. There is a great deal of diversity in the biosphere. As a result, just as we have different layers of the atmosphere, there are also different zones of the biosphere. These are known as biomes, and chances are you are familiar with the concept if not the name. Rain forests, grasslands, tundra and deserts are all examples of biomes.

Examples of biomes

Hydrosphere and Geosphere

If your spaceship made its way through the atmosphere without being noticed by anyone living in the biosphere, chances are that it would land in the hydrosphere. The hydrosphere is the name given to all the water around the world. More than 75% of the world's surface is covered by water, so chances are you would land here. It includes the vast majority that is in the world's oceans, as well as glaciers, lakes, rivers and groundwater.

Beneath the atmosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere is the fourth sphere of the planet, the geosphere. The geosphere is made up of all the rocks, dirt, lava and other minerals below. It is by far the heaviest of the spheres. It is also the least explored. While we live in the biosphere, routinely fly through the atmosphere and can send submarines throughout the hydrosphere, we have only gone a few miles into the geosphere.

Boundaries and Interactions of Spheres

Chances are you are starting to wonder if some of these spheres can blend together. If you are in a tunnel in a mountain, are you in the geosphere, biosphere or atmosphere? A case could be made for each. The answer is actually quite frustrating - you are in all three. In fact, the boundaries between Earth's spheres are less concrete and really more theoretical.

Spheres boundaries

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