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CHAPTER 4: Introduction to Systems Theory

(c). Structure of Systems

Systems exist at every scale of size and are often arranged in some kind of hierarchical fashion. Large systems are often composed of one or more smaller systems working within its various elements. Processes within these smaller systems can often be connected directly or indirectly to processes found in the larger system. A good example of a system within systems is the hierarchy of systems found in our Universe. Let us examine this system from top to bottom:

At the highest level in this hierarchy we have the system that we call the cosmos or Universe. The elements of this system consist of galaxies, quasars, black holes, stars, planets and other heavenly bodies. The current structure of this system is thought to have come about because of a massive explosion known as the Big Bang and is controlled by gravity, weak and strong atomic forces, and electromagnetic forces.

Around some stars in the universe we have an obvious arrangement of planets, asteroids, comets and other material. We call these systems solar systems. The elements of this system behave according to set laws of nature and are often found orbiting around a central star because of gravitational attraction. On some planets conditions may exist for the development of dynamic interactions between the hydrosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere, or biosphere.

We can define a planetary system as a celestial body in space that orbits a star and that maintains some level of dynamics between its lithosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. Some planetary systems, like the Earth, can also have a biosphere. If a planetary system contains a biosphere, dynamic interactions will develop between this system and the lithosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. These interactions can be called an environmental system. Environmental systems can also exist at smaller scales of size (e.g., a single flower growing in a field could be an example of a small-scale environmental system).

The Earth's biosphere is made up small interacting entities called ecosystems. In an ecosystem, populations of species group together into communities and interact with each other and the abiotic environment. The smallest lining entity in an ecosystem is a single organism. An organism is alive and functioning because it is a biological system. The elements of a biological system consist of cells and larger structures known as organs that work together to produce life. The functioning of cells in any biological system is dependent on numerous chemical reactions. Together these chemical reactions make up a chemical system. The types of chemical interactions found in chemical systems are dependent on the atomic structure of the reacting matter. The components of atomic structure can be described as an atomic system.


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Citation: Pidwirny, M. (2006). "Structure of Systems". Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition. Date Viewed.


Created by Dr. Michael Pidwirny & Scott Jones University of British Columbia Okanagan

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05/07/2009 9:59