Is Earth a Closed System: Why, When and Detailed Facts and FAQs


Is earth a closed system is one of the most debated questions when any discussion about a closed system is regarded. It is a closed system for the transfer of matter.

Generally, we know that earth is made up of matter and several other elements in and around the surroundings of the earth. So when we get into deep discussions about the closed system we tend to oversee its technicality of it.

Basically is earth a closed system is asked among the discussion we get into. Firstly earth is a system which is basically made up of matter, water and exchange of energy too. Hence earth is regarded to be the closed system for the exchanges of matter.

Secondly, the earth is considered to be an open system when energy is considered. It is basically an open system when the transfer of energy takes place. Surroundings also aid in the transfer of energy inside and outside the earth.

As per the law of thermodynamics, matter does not leave the earth due to the presence of gravity. Hence we generally regard the earth to be a closed box. A closed box is simply one that does not allow the matter to enter or leave the system.

There is an understanding that all the elements of the periodic table exist on earth and they aid in the transfer of their own matter. They not only exist but are not allowed to leave the system of the earth because the gravitational force holds it strong enough to make it stay back on earth.

is earth a closed system
“Earth” by Kevin M. Gill is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What does it mean if we say Earth is a closed system?

Is earth a closed system? Certainly yes, in terms of transfer of matter it is considered to be a closed system. Whenever there is said to be a transfer of energy earth is the main component that aids in the exchange of elements.

Earth is also named as lithosphere and the matter present in it will keep cycling between the first few layers of the earth. It does not necessarily leave the system’s surroundings. Whether is it matter, air, or energy it will be transferred to the surroundings inside and outside.

The matter or energy will only revolve around the so-called lithosphere (earth), hydrosphere, and biosphere. Beyond this, there are no possibilities of the matter or energy being exchanged.

We also must be aware of the types of system we are dealing with in general. They are isolate, closed and open systems. The isolated system is one such where neither the matter nor the energy is transferred.

A closed system is one such where only the energy gets transferred but not the matter, which means that energy, enters and leaves the system but not the matter. The closed system can also be regarded to be an open system partially since it allows the energy to enter and leave the system.

An open system is one such where both the energy and the matter are being exchanged or transferred per se. The system allows the energy and the matter to enter and leave the system.

Now that we have the knowledge about the types of systems, we can easily point to saying that earth is definitely a closed system in terms of exchange of matter an open system in terms of transfer of energy.

Why is Earth a closed system?

The main justification to this question is simpler when we study it using examples that happen in day to day life. Also transfer of energy alone makes the earth a closed system.

For instance we consider a reservoir in which certain matter or material flows between them or in the side pathways of a sink. Next we consider the nature in order to understand the earth being a closed system.

When ocean is spoke about for instance during summer the water evaporates at high rates. It’s condensed and then come down as rain. From this very occurring it is visible that earth only transfers the energy and not the matter.

The water vapour is being evaporated but the whole of the ocean is not being transferred elsewhere. Again after being evaporated it is getting condensed it comes back as rain. So there is no loss of matter in this whole process.

Next we consider the process of volcano. When any volcano erupts it will give out the hot lava called the magma outside the volcano. The heat produced during the eruption leaves the earth’s system but not the magma itself.

Like few examples like these give us a better understanding of why earth is a closed system and when does not act like one also. Earth only allows the energy to enter and leave the system but not any type of matter for that case.

Why is Earth not a closed system?

Like we have discussed in the above few topics as to why the earth does not act as a closed system, because it transfers energy between the system and the surroundings.

The earth that has a biosphere unlike any other planet on the solar system is considered to be an open system due to the transfer of energy with the surroundings. There can be several other examples to show how the earth acts as an open system when it comes to the exchange of energy.

The earth receives energy in several ways and one of the important sources is the sun itself. The sun radiates heat energy in such a way that the earth receives it and provides it to the contents it consists of.

The earth receives energy not only from the fireball, the sun but also from the space which radiates back the energy it had received from the sun. The sun is the major provider of heat energy that is required by the earth because it has a biosphere in it.

Energy enters the earth from asteroids, meteoroids, and several components like these. They will radiate the energy and the earth captures it instantly. In this way, the earth acts as an open system and not does act as a closed system.

The debris from the asteroids, meteoroids and so many will exactly hit the surface of the earth and enter into the same energy. Also, the earth will give out energy from its atmosphere into space.

All this is a continuous process and will finally term the earth to be an open system in the end. With these factors, considered earth can never be a closed system at all.

Is water on Earth a closed system?

Water on earth can or cannot be a closed system when several actions are considered. Water is basically the hydrogen and oxygen molecules bonded together. So we need to discuss certain events to prove it to be a closed system or not.

Water in small amounts compared to the water present in the ocean makes a big difference in knowing what system it exactly belongs to. Water in small amounts can be regarded to be an open system.

The main reason we consider water in small amounts to be an open system is that it will be used by plants for photosynthesis and as food for several species. The property of water is being lost and it no longer remains as a matter.

Photosynthesis is a process where the water molecules are broken down into carbon dioxide which we exhale as another process of breaking down food chemically. So in this way water becomes an open system where the matter is being lost from the system.

But when we consider the water in the ocean mainly under the earth, the water is just used by the plates of the earth, and deep down it only circulated and is not used for any purposes. The vast amount of water remains underground without any use and is circulated underground itself.

Hence these two examples showcase how the water on earth is an open system as well as a closed system. Once we understand the conditions it is been considered easier it becomes to categorize.

“Water” by CeresB is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Is the earth a closed or open system for energy?

Whenever energy is considered earth is an open system because it completely allows the energy to enter and leave the system for necessity.

Radiation that is entering the surface of the earth from its surroundings is allowed to enter the surface of the earth instantly. Sun is the major provider for the energy to flow between the earth and the surroundings considered.

We all know that energy is got mainly from the sun and when it radiates the heat energy from the surface of it, automatically it will reach all the planets and earth consisting a biosphere will definitely need energy for all the habitats to survive.

Not only the sun provides but also several other factors too provide energy that enters and leaves the earth. Be it asteroids, meteoroids, and comets for that case. It will surely have debris that is the remaining of it from the exhaustion.

The debris will reach the earth’s surface and will interact with the particles present on the surface. In turn, the earth will also emit radiation from its atmosphere into space. This process will go on and on till a point.

Hence from all these occurring are evidence that the earth is definitely an open system for energy which it will allow to enter and leave the system when in need.

Why is earth a closed system in terms of matter?

Earth is a closed system for sure in terms of matter. The main reason behind this is the presence of gravity.

Gravity is a component that keeps everything grounded no matter how big or small the matter seems to be. So for instance let us take ourselves to this case, why do not we fly without any aid? The answer simply is gravity, and it keeps us down to the ground despite so many factors.

Gravity keeps all the matter present in the earth intact and without being lost to the surroundings. So the earth is called a closed system in terms of matter only because of gravity.

The matter comprises solid, liquid, and gas, hence gravity keeps them together and makes them not leave the system.

There is something called physical and chemical matter, in which the chemical matter will always remain the same and does not leave the earth’s surroundings at any cost.

Hence why call the earth to be a closed system in terms of matter. Physical laws need to be broken in order for matter to leave any system, mainly earth. Since it is impossible to break it stays within making the earth a closed system.

Frequently Asked Questions

If earth is a closed system, how can energy be lost?

We must know that energy cannot be created or destroyed. It just takes different forms.

Likewise, when the earth acts as a closed system the energy will be lost because there is no such thing called as laws for energy to be broken. Energy from the sun will be radiated and accepted by the earth and the same way the earth also will radiate energy but not matter.

Is earth an isolated system?

Earth can never be an isolated system at any terms for it has to transfer energy at all costs.

Earth can only be a closed system in terms of matter and an open system in terms of energy. But it can never be an isolated system at all. Some transfer must happen between the earth and the surroundings. So the earth has no possibility to be an isolated system.

Keerthana Srikumar

Hi...I am Keerthana Srikumar, currently pursuing Ph.D. in Physics and my area of specialization is nano-science. I completed my Bachelor's and Master's from Stella Maris College and Loyola College respectively. I have a keen interest in exploring my research skills and also have the ability to explain Physics topics in a simpler manner. Apart from academics I love to spend my time in music and reading books. Let's connect through LinkedIn-https://www.linkedin.com/in/keerthana-s-91560920a/

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