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Earth Surface

chemosynthesis, hydrosphere, hydrothermal vents, inland seas, polar ice caps

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Earth’s surface is the outermost layer of the planet. It includes the hydrosphere, the crust, and the biosphere.


The hydrosphere consists of the bodies of water that cover 71 percent of Earth’s surface. The largest of these are the oceans, which contain over 97 percent of all water on Earth. Glaciers and the polar ice caps contain just over 2 percent of Earth’s water in the form of solid ice. Only about 0.6 percent is under the surface as groundwater. Nevertheless, groundwater is 36 times more plentiful than water found in lakes, inland seas, rivers, and in the atmosphere as water vapor. Only 0.017 percent of all the water on Earth is found in lakes and rivers. And a mere 0.001 percent is found in the atmosphere as water vapor. Most of the water in glaciers, lakes, inland seas, rivers, and groundwater is fresh and can be used for drinking and agriculture. Dissolved salts compose about 3.5 percent of the water in the oceans, however, making it unsuitable for drinking or agriculture unless it is treated to remove the salts.


The biosphere includes all the areas of Earth capable of supporting life. The biosphere ranges from about 10 km (about 6 mi) into the atmosphere to the deepest ocean floor. For a long time, scientists believed that all life depended on energy from the Sun and consequently could only exist where sunlight penetrated. In the 1970s, however, scientists discovered various forms of life around hydrothermal vents on the floor of the Pacific Ocean where no sunlight penetrated. They learned that primitive bacteria formed the basis of this living community and that the bacteria derived their energy from a process called chemosynthesis that did not depend on sunlight. Some scientists believe that the biosphere may extend relatively deep into Earth’s crust. They have recovered what they believe are primitive bacteria from deeply drilled holes below the surface.

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