This article throws light upon the top three system traits of global environment. The system traits are: 1. Openness 2. Integration 3. Complexity.
System Trait # 1. Openness:
Openness refers to whether a system is isolated from other systems. An open system is not isolated in that it exchanges matter and/or energy with other systems.
A closed system is isolated and exchanges nothing. The law of entropy means that energy cannot be fully recycled; rather, “high-quality” energy is degraded to “lower quality” energy (such as waste heat); therefore, any system that does not have a renewing supply of energy from outside will eventually cease to exist.
Not surprisingly then, the Earth is an open system in terms of energy. In contrast, the Earth, for all practical purposes, is a closed system in terms of matter. If we discount the relatively small amount of matter added from meteorites and other space debris, the Earth contains all of the matter it will even have.
Driven by energy from the Sun, this matter cycles over and over among the four spheres, often moving back and forth among the gaseous, liquid, and solid states and participating in the metabolism of living things.
System Trait # 2. Integration:
Integration refers to the strength of the interactions among the parts of the system. For instance, the human body is a highly integrated system whose cells are interdependent and in close communication. The loss of certain cells, such as those composing the heart or brain, can result in death of all of the other cells in the system (the whole organism) because the cells are so interdependent.
At the other extreme are systems with very weak integration, such as the cells in a colony of single-celled organisms (such as the green algae, chlamydomonas). Removal of many cells (to a point) will have little effect on the remaining cells because they are less dependent on each other.
The degree of integration of the global environmental system is under debate. At one extreme are scientists who argue that the global system is a super organism: many complex pathways intimately interconnect the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.
According to this Gaia hypothesis, the Earth is similar to an organism, and its component parts are so integrated that they are like cells in a living body. Many scientists, however, believe that the global environment is less integrated than the Gaia hypothesis argues.
This does not mean that the environment is “unconnected” or even as weakly connected as a colony of cells. Many kinds of matter cycles and energy flows interconnect the spheres and cycle within the spheres as well. The true level of integration in the global system is probably somewhat less than a “super organism” but considerably more than a loose collection of independent parts.
System Trait # 3. Complexity:
Complexity is often defined as how many kinds of parts a system has. This definition conforms to our intuition: a tiny insect seems more complex to us than a large rock because it has many more types of “parts“. The insect has more complex molecules, as well as more different types of molecules, and these are used to construct cells and organs.
This example also illustrates that complexity is often hierarchical, with smaller components being used to construct larger ones.
As you would expect, the environment is enormously complex. The four spheres, with their matter cycles and energy flows, have trillions and trillions of different components operating at many spatial and temporal scales. Organisms, soils, rainwater, air, and many other components interact in complicated ways.
The individual spheres themselves are equally complex. Even with advanced computers, no one has been able to predict accurately and precisely the weather, or even climate, very far into the future because the atmosphere is so complex. Indeed, the many interactions make unpredictability a basic characteristic of complex system.