Components of the Physical Environment

Written by david mcguffin
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Components of the Physical Environment
Land, water and air are all components of the physical environment. (Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images)

We interact with the physical environment 24/7 throughout our lives; however, little thought or consideration is usually given to the necessity of categorising its components. Though there are different classification systems for defining and categorising types of environments, the physical environment is typically seen as a grouping of abiotic, or non-biological, elements.


The terrestrial environment is one of the subcategories of the physical environment. Some classification systems limit the physical environment to that with which humans regularly interact. The lithosphere is a geological term that includes both the upper mantle and the outer crust of earth's surface. The terrestrial environment is made of rocks and dirt, some of which is decomposed organic matter and other parts of which are made of broken down rocks and minerals.


The aquatic environment, also known as the hydrosphere, is another component of the physical environment upon which organisms rely to sustain life. According to the Starry Skies website, about 75 per cent of the earth's surface is covered by water; however, only 3 per cent of the water that we have on earth is freshwater, making it a limited nonrenewable resource. Another interesting fact about the hydrosphere is the deepest place on earth, the Mariana Trench, is in the Pacific Ocean and has a depth of nearly 7 miles.


Earth's atmosphere is the third main component of the physical environment. About 80 per cent of earth's atmosphere is made of nitrogen with most of the remaining portion of the atmosphere consisting of oxygen. The atmosphere is divided into four layers, with the troposphere being the portion that is adjacent to the lithosphere. The next three layers are the stratosphere, mesosphere and thermosphere. According to the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the mixture of gases in the earth's atmosphere has taken more than 4.5 billion years to evolve to its present form.

Invisible Forces

Although these forces are not necessarily part of the physical environment that people interact with on a daily basis, there are invisible force, such as gravity, that exist because of the physical environment. Gravity is a force that attracts one mass to another, larger mass. All objects have their own gravity, even the smallest pebble of the lithosphere. Gravity and electromagnetism are two invisible forces that help to hold the physical environment together and give it the laws of properties described by Isaac Newton and other physicists.

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