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Sytems on earth can be thought as a series of sub-systems that interact (spheres). Spheres are broad systems or categories that group similar components, processes and cycles. Wetlands are comprised of components of all of these spheres, which interact and interconnect through wetland processes and cycles.

All the components and processes of aquatic ecosystems for the purpose of these pages are contained in the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere.

Each major sphere is connected to the other spheres in a complex web of processes. Energy is the main driver of processes and cycles of matter[1].

The four spheres: hydrosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and geosphere. Image by Queensland Government

Quick facts

The earth's hydrosphere
is estimated to have formed when liquid water was first thought to have been present at or near the Earth's surface, some 4.3 billion years ago[2].

The hydrosphere contains all the water on Earth, which covers about 71% of the Earth’s surface. Water is essential to all life, and is a major component of weather patterns, and can impact many cycles and processes. The hydrosphere contains the water cycle, where water is in constant motion and change (including water evaporating from the oceans, moving through the atmosphere and percolating through the substrate via groundwater). Water movement creates hydrodynamic energy that is involved in processes, does work, and is involved in chemical processes. For example, water also modifies the Earth’s surface through processes such as erosion that weathers rock material and is involved in soil-forming processes[1].

The atmosphere is the dynamic envelope of gases on the Earth’s surface that is constantly interacting with the Earth’s components. The atmosphere is made of gases (78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and smaller amounts of other gases, such as carbon dioxide), and water vapour. The atmosphere is essential to many life processes, such as photosynthesis, where plants extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and expel oxygen[1].

The geosphere includes the continental and oceanic crust and all other layers of the Earth's interior. This includes all rocks, sediments and soils, surface landforms and the processes that shape the Earth's surface.

The biosphere includes all life on Earth. The biosphere also consists of life living on or in the Earth's geosphere and hydrosphere, including humans and all organic matter that has not yet decomposed[1]. The biosphere may be discontinuous and irregular, yet it interacts with, and is connected to, all other spheres within which it is intricately interwoven. Life exists within specific environmental settings which are a result of the mix of components on processes that form habitats.



  1. ^ a b c d Hamblin, WK & Christiansen, EH (2001), Earth's dynamic systems, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
  2. ^ NASA (2005), NASA Scientist Confirm Liquid Water on Early Earth. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 September 2023].

Last updated: 28 July 2023

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2023) Spheres, WetlandInfo website, accessed 18 March 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation