It can be challenging to define abiotic resources because there are many different types. Abiotic resources are not alive, but they are necessary in order for living things to survive. Abiotic resources, or abiotic factors, are the nonliving physical and chemical parts of an ecosystem. Water, sunlight and air are good examples of abiotic resources. In some parts of the world, like mountain environments or dry deserts, the presence and availability of abiotic resources can have an impact on how many plants and animals are able to survive.
Water is Necessary for Life
Water is a necessary abiotic resource on Earth made up of hydrogen and oxygen. Without it, the planet wouldn't have plants, animals or any other living organisms. Though there is water covering most of the planet, 97% of Earth's water is in the saltwater oceans, which means humans and many animals can't drink it. Another 2% is locked up in glaciers and ice caps. That means that only 1% of the planet's water is fresh water available to drink.
Up to 60% of the human body is water, which helps regulate body temperature, digest food, lubricate joints and transport oxygen all over the body. Water is the only natural substance that can be found as a gas, liquid and solid in temperatures normally found on Earth.
Energy From Sunlight
Sunlight provides energy to plants and other producers in the food web. Most producers on land are plants, and most producers in the water are algae. They are all able to absorb the sun's radiation and convert it into food energy. This process is called photosynthesis. When producers create energy from sunlight, they are then able to pass that energy on to other living organisms that can't produce energy from the sun. In common ecology terms, this is called the food web.
Producers have also played a role in creating another important type of abiotic resource: fossil fuels. The first producers evolved in water environments around three billion years ago. Sunlight gave plants the ability to thrive and adapt to their surroundings. When they died, the plants decomposed. Over thousands and then millions of years, this plant matter descended farther and farther into the Earth, sometimes thousands of meters deep. With high temperatures and extreme pressure, the decomposed plant parts became fossil fuels.
The three types of fossil fuels are petroleum (which can be converted to gasoline for cars), natural gas and coal. Because fossil fuels take millions of years to form, they are considered nonrenewable resources that can be depleted.
Air in Earth's Atmosphere
Air is made up of compounds that are necessary for plants and animals to survive. Together, nitrogen and oxygen make up more than 99% of the Earth's atmosphere. Plants also depend on carbon dioxide, although that only makes up 0.04% of the atmosphere. Animals and plants each produce the gases that the other needs to live. When animals breathe in air, they are taking in oxygen. When they breathe out, they release carbon dioxide. Plants are the exact opposite, which is why it's so important to plant trees for a cleaner, more oxygen-rich atmosphere.
High up in the Earth's atmosphere is a molecule called ozone, which is made up of three oxygen atoms. Though humans can't use ozone as a resource on Earth, it forms a layer in the atmosphere called the ozone layer, which protects us from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.
Nutrients are chemical compounds found in every living thing. Nutrients are necessary for many biological processes including growth, healing and breathing. Plants are able to absorb nutrients from the soil and water.
The most important nutrients to plants are carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Other important nutrients include phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. These nutrients can be found in soil along with air and water, which are also nonliving abiotic resources. Animals get nutrients by eating plants or other animals.
About the Author
Lindsey is finishing her M.S. Environmental Conservation degree at the University of Wisconsin Madison. She spent four summers communicating science in Denali National Park and has continued to search for ways to communicate science in and outside of work. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, backpacking, making music, and sitting around the campfire.