System Earth, Part 2
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System Earth, Part 2
By Trista L. Pollard
1 In the article System Earth, Part 1, you found out that our planet was a system made up of smaller systems that were vital to our planet's survival. Within our four spheres, there are cycles or continuous processes that provide essential resources and nutrients for Earth. Earth is an open system because energy and matter are transferred through all four spheres within these cycles. In this article, we will explore the energy sources for the systems and cycles on our planet and the actual cycles that provide the nutrients that living organisms need to survive on our planet.
2 Scientists have found that the flow of energy on Earth is not only measurable but also predictable. In fact, there are scientific laws that explain the way energy is exchanged and transferred on our planet. The first law of thermodynamics explains that energy is transferred between systems, but it cannot be created or destroyed. As you know, energy is transferred between the four spheres on Earth. Scientists refer to these transfers of energy as an energy budget. Just like your parents' household budget where you have subtractions and additions of money, addition of energy within our environment is balanced by subtraction of energy from our environment. A good example would be solar energy. Energy from the sun is absorbed and reflected in equal amounts. However, we cannot create solar energy on Earth.
3 The second law of thermodynamics states that when energy transfer occurs, matter becomes less organized with time. In laymen's terms, the energy in our universe and on our planet is spread out more uniformly over time. Keep in mind that the four spheres on our planet are open systems. These spheres are also reservoirs for energy and matter. Although we cannot see it, matter and energy are constantly exchanged between the spheres through different processes. These processes are in the form of chemical reactions, radioactive decay, the radiation of energy, and the growth and decay of organisms. This is where the cycles in our earth system become extremely important.
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