Our planet, Earth is the only one on which life, as we know it, exists. Life on Earth is dependent on many factors. Most life-forms we know need an ambient temperature, water, and food. The resources available on the Earth and the energy from the Sun are necessary to meet the basic requirements of all life-forms on the Earth.
We have already talked about the composition of air in the first chapter. It is a mixture of many gases like nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and water vapour. It is interesting to note that even the composition of air is the result of life on Earth. In planets such as Venus and Mars, where no life is known to exist, the major component of the atmosphere is found to be carbon dioxide. In fact, carbon dioxide constitutes up to 95-97% of the atmosphere on Venus and Mars.
Water occupies a very large area of the Earth's surface and is also found underground. Some amount of water exists in the form of water vapour in the atmosphere. Most of the water on Earth's surface is found in seas and oceans and is saline. Fresh water is found frozen in the ice-caps at the two poles and on snowcovered mountains. The underground water and the water in rivers, lakes and ponds is also fresh. However, the availability of fresh water varies from place to place. Practically every summer, most places have to face a shortage of water. And in rural areas, where water supply systems have not been installed, people are forced to spend considerable amounts of time in fetching water from faraway sources.
Soil is an important resource that decides the diversity of life in an area. But what is the soil and how is it formed? The outermost layer of our Earth is called the crust and the minerals found in this layer supply a variety of nutrients to life-forms. But these minerals will not be available to the organisms if the minerals are bound up in huge rocks. Over long periods of time, thousands and millions of years, the rocks at or near the surface of the Earth are broken down by various physical, chemical and some biological processes. The end product of this breaking down is the fine particles of soil. But what are the factors or processes that make soil?
A constant interaction between the biotic and abiotic components of the biosphere makes it a dynamic, but stable system. These interactions consist of a transfer of matter and energy between the different components of the biosphere. Let us look at some processes involved in the maintenance of the above balance.
Elemental oxygen is normally found in the form of a diatomic molecule. However, in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, a molecule containing three atoms of oxygen is found. This would mean a formula of O3 and this is called ozone. Unlike the normal diatomic molecule of oxygen, ozone is poisonous and we are lucky that it is not stable nearer to the Earth's surface. But it performs an essential function where it is found. It absorbs harmful radiations from the Sun. This prevents those harmful radiations from reaching the surface of the Earth where they may damage many forms of life.