Lab 3: A Bird's Eye View: Exploring Your Region

Part C: Exploring Regional Inputs and Outputs

When studying a system, it is important to think about the interactions among the components within the system. It is also important to consider the inputs and outputs of the system. What, if anything, enters the system? What, if anything, leaves? The inputs and outputs will help you understand how the system you are studying changes over time.

There are three types of systems: open, closed, and isolated. An open system continuously interacts with its environment. Energy and/or matter flows freely across the system's boundaries. A closed system is one in which no matter enters or leaves. An isolated system exchanges absolutely no energy, matter, or information across its boundaries.

Checking In

  • Come up with one example of each of the following types of systems. Explain your reasoning.
    • open
    • closed
    • isolated

1. Imagine a box around the region you defined in Part B. This imaginary box should include not only the surface of the Earth, but also what is above (atmosphere) and what is below the surface (pedosphere or soil).

2. With a partner or small group, make a list of the inputs and outputs of your region. Think about what you already know about the water cycle, the energy cycle, and the chemical cycle and how it can be applied to the inputs and outputs of your regional system. Consider all four components of the Earth system and the processes that connect them.

  • Atmosphere: air, clouds, and precipitation (rain, snow, hail)
  • Hydrosphere: water in streams, canals, rivers, ponds, lakes, and oceans; also ground water
  • Pedosphere: soil
  • Biosphere: living things
  • Cycling of water, chemicals, and energy

As you make your list, think about the following questions: What is carried by water? What is carried by air? What moves through the ground? What do animals carry? What do people carry?

3. Share your list with the rest of the class. Together, compile a class list of inputs and outputs for your region.

4. On your own or with your partner/small group, answer the Stop and Think questions.

Stop and Think

1: Write three "what-if" questions about changes to specific inputs and outputs of the region. For each of those what-if questions, make a prediction. How will that change affect the other components (atmosphere, hydrosphere, pedosphere, and biosphere) of the region?

Question: What if the stream coming through the region was dammed up before the water entered the region?
Prediction: The plants in the region would die and the animals would leave due to lack of water. (biosphere) The region would be drier because there would be less water both in the soil and atmosphere. (pedosphere, atmosphere) The stream bed would dry up and the fish would die. (hydrosphere, biosphere)


  • Make sure your questions and predictions deal with only one change to the system at a time.
  • Write your predictions in terms of the four major components of the Earth system. For example, How might the change affect the atmosphere? How might it affect the biosphere (living things)?
  • Be prepared to defend any predictions you make on the basis of scientific knowledge.

2: Do you think your region is an open, closed, or isolated system? Explain.