Resources on Earth

"The Earth has enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed."

Get started Sign up for free
Resources on Earth Resources on Earth

Create learning materials about Resources on Earth with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account

Millions of flashcards designed to help you ace your studies

Sign up for free

Convert documents into flashcards for free with AI!

Table of contents

    The above quote is famously attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Despite being more of a political ethicist than a scientist, he pointed to the multitude of resources that might be enough to provide for all the human population - were it not for inequality or unsustainable human interference with the natural cycles.

    Resources on Earth aren't the same all around the globe, they are not equally accessible, and they may be used differently depending on environmental factors, such as temperature. Let's find out how and why.

    What is the definition of Earth's resources?

    Our planet is unique in the Solar System. The resource diversity on Earth, such as water and oxygen, fuel life processes.

    Both the natural systems (e.g. the reproduction of wild species) and the man-made ones (e.g. road construction) are highly dependent on the availability of planetary resources and on the processes that recirculate them (e.g. the water cycle, sedimentation).

    Our planet's resources include air, water, land, sunlight, wood and fibres.

    Human population growth puts pressure on Earth's resources. This can lead to conflict and competition over who gets to use them. It can also lead to environmental degradation as people try to extract more resources than the earth can provide.

    Ultimately, sustainable management of Earth's resources is essential for the long-term health of our planet.

    The most abundant resources on Earth

    Earth's significant resources come from its main spheres: the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.

    The most abundant energy resources include gas, oil, wind, solar, thermal and biomass energy. They generate essential chemical, electrical or mechanical energy that power our homes and industries.

    The most abundant resources on Earth, or at least in the Earth's crust (lithosphere), are:

    • Oxygen (O2): Society needs aerated soils (oxygen-rich topsoils) to grow crops, hence why the ploughing and tillage processes were invented.
    • Followed by silicon (Si): Most, if not all, electronic devices, from computers to solar panels, as well as machine tools and silicone, contain silicon.
    The most abundant resource in the atmosphere is nitrogen (N).

    The lithosphere is the outer layer of the Earth's surface and is comprised of the crust and the upper mantle.

    Nitrogen is essential in the beverage-making, oil recovery and fertiliser manufacturing industries.

    The hydrosphere has vast amounts of readily available water (H2O), hydrogen (H) and dissolved salts (such as NaCl). Water and salts especially are used in:

    • life processes: enabling nerve impulses in organic matter

    • industrial processes: molten salt helps some solar farms function more efficiently.

    The biosphere's most abundant element is carbon (C).

    • Carbon molecules ensure the continuation of the food chain (cellular growth), which we depend on.

    All of these spheres interact to give us some of the most crucial land resources for our society: wood and fibres, fossil fuels and foods!

    It is often not enough to have countless resources but also to know how to extract and use them sustainably.

    Resources from the land

    The resources that make up our lithosphere include the metals, rocks, soils, sands, minerals, land formations and other elements in the crust and upper mantle.

    Resources extracted from the lithosphere include minerals such as copper and iron and building materials such as gravel and clay. The resulting products include concrete, cement, stainless steel, and even manufactured precious stones (like rubies).

    Wood and Fibres

    Humans have used wood and fibres from land sources for millennia for crafting, building, and fuel.

    • How are they used?

    Wood is used to construct homes and furniture, while fibres produce cloth and paper. In addition to their traditional uses, wood and fibres can also be used to create energy. When burned, wood and fibres release heat that can be used to generate electricity or to power engines.

    Wood and fibres can be used to create biodegradable plastics.

    Coconut fibres are known as coir and started being used to produce textiles on a more industrial scale, especially clothing, ropes, upholstery, nets and even bricks.

    • How are they obtained?

    They are usually obtained through planting and felling, harvesting or cutting.

    Wood and fibres give us cellulose, the substance that makes up the rigid walls of plant cells. Not only is cellulose necessary for our diet, but it's also the main component of paper, cardboard and other products crucial to society.

    Generally, wood and fibres are renewable materials because they can regenerate relatively fast.

    However, both can also be non-renewable, depending on the harvested species.

    Some plant species, such as Sitka spruce, are more fit for industrial exploitation than others, such as oak trees, which mature slowly.

    Oil and petroleum

    Petroleum typically refers to the crude oil extracted from beneath the ground. The oil and petrol industry is a significant contributor to the global economy, and oil and petroleum are essential to the operation of most of our businesses and industries.

    • How are they used?

    Petroleum can be refined into various products, including cosmetics, diesel, plastics, and other chemicals. Despite the importance of oil and petroleum, there is a finite supply of these resources, and it is essential to manage oil and petroleum resources responsibly to ensure that they are available for future generations.

    Often, gas is extracted from oil wells as well.

    Oil and gas deposits are constantly forming through two processes called diagenesis and catagenesis. What happens is that biomatter from dead organisms ends up in an anoxic (oxygen-free) environment. They get compacted, mixed, and eventually chemically altered to become gas and petrol!

    This happens on geological scales and not within a human lifespan.

    • How are they obtained?

    Petroleum (oil) and gas are usually obtained through drilling or refining processes (e.g., tar sands). They are non-renewable resources.

    New foods

    Foods (compounds with nutritional qualities) represent the fuel for biological organisms. Humans can typically turn biological matter into edible food through various processes such as cooking and milling. Depending on the type and origins, it can also be eaten raw (such as fruits, nuts, and fish).

    • How are they used?

    Different foods can provide new sources of nutrition, improve scientific knowledge, and help create new jobs and industries.

    New foods, such as proteins obtained from insects or algae derivates, may help improve our environment and reduce our carbon footprint.

    Human food resources are typically highly renewable and safe to recycle or compost.

    Biodigesters are tanks that contain bacteria which digest food scraps over short timespans. This process creates biogas (methane), liquid fuel (liquid biomethane), and even humus (soil)!

    • How are they obtained?

    Foods can be obtained through hunting, farming and processing activities. New foods can also be grown in a laboratory.

    Resources from the air

    The atmosphere represents the surrounding gas layers of our planet, which contain large amounts of energy in the form of heat and light. This energy can be used to power wind turbines and solar panels.

    • Wind turbines use the kinetic energy of the wind to generate electricity,
    • while solar panels convert sunlight into electrical energy.

    The oxygen in the atmosphere allows biological organisms to breathe and produce large amounts of energy necessary for growth and reproduction!

    Resources from water

    Our hydrosphere's resources include oceans, lakes, rivers, and groundwater.

    The water provided by the hydrosphere can be used for transport (sailing), industry and heavy industries (reactor coolers), agriculture (watering plants), or domestic life (washing).

    The resources from the biosphere can be found within all other spheres on Earth. Wood and fibres, fossil fuels and foods are all vital biological resources!

    Various water resources on Earth

    Three main water resources can be found on Earth: saltwater, groundwater and surface water. All of them enable human societies to survive.

    Brackish water (slightly saline water), water vapour from the atmosphere, or water found in living tissues, can also be harvested and processed.

    The wastewater that results from human activities can also be considered a resource. However, it must take a few crucial steps to ensure it doesn't pollute the environment and other water sources.

    Wastewater treatment includes screening (removing large solids) and sedimentation tanks (the clarification of water).

    Freshwater resources on Earth

    Freshwater resources on Earth are constantly enabled by the global planetary water cycle. The processes standing at the base of this cycle are evaporation, condensation and precipitation.

    Groundwater that is safe to drink for humans is difficult to come by. Many wild freshwater sources nowadays contain harmful pathogens or dissolved carcinogenic compounds. Additionally, groundwater can often be cleaner than surface water because the sediments already filter it.

    The safeness of freshwater resources is usually created by industrial processes that may:

    • add fluoride (a compound good for your teeth)

    • remove any minerals, making pure water, which may be used in heating devices such as irons.

    Saltwater distilled after collection from the sea is a popular option in warm countries, sometimes being preferred over using freshwater resources.

    Sunlight aids the evaporation process involved in saltwater distillation.

    Running out of resources on Earth

    Most of the resources on Earth are finite in one way or another.

    The supply of some resources is perhaps impossible to exhaust. Sunlight resources will only run out when our star dies.

    Other resources, such as cedar wood, can be replenished, but the quality of the trees' wood may be affected. Plantations that focus on rapid growth lead to a decreased number of tree rings in cedar trees, and thus make their wood less decay resistant and less dense.1

    Have you heard of energy resources or technologies with low sustainability ratings before?

    The sustainability rating of various resources can be low. Their use and extraction may pollute or destroy natural habitats.

    Extracting rare earth resources such as cobalt can release arsenic into the environment and create socio-economical strife.

    One way to reduce energy resource use impact is through biomimetics.

    Biomimetics or biomimicry means that human designs try to optimise materials, looks, or structures by taking inspiration from nature to make energy use more efficient.

    The humpback whale's flippers have served as inspiration for wind turbine design to reduce drag and produce more electricity2.

    Limited resources on Earth

    Limited resources on Earth, such as oil, require prudent management to ensure future generations can still use them.

    Their conservation can be achieved through simple methods, such as brushing our teeth with less water and growing less water-demanding houseplants. The reliance on fossil fuels can be reduced by switching to renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

    One effective method of conserving limited resources is promoting a circular economy, where recycling (obtaining gold and copper from old computers) and reusing (second-hand wooden tables) are encouraged.

    Another sustainable practice is creating a Lifecycle Assessment (LCA). This is a process that evaluates all impacts of a product on the environment, from "cradle" (extraction, manufacturing, etc.) to "grave" (end of life, recycling potential).

    We all depend on Earth's natural cycles to survive and have organic and inorganic resources recirculated and distributed among ourselves. The sustainable use of these resources is critical to prevent their depletion.

    The Earth's Resources - Key takeaways

    • Resources are any feature, material or characteristic of our planet that can be used to produce energy and meet human needs.

    • Earth's resources can be natural, synthetic, renewable, or finite (non-renewable).

    • All renewable and non-renewable resources can be sustainable or unsustainable depending on extraction, production, distribution and other processes.

    • Methods such as circular economies, biomimicry and LCAs help promote the sustainable use of energy resources.

    • Non-renewable resources require prudent critical management to ensure future generations can use them.


    1. Wild versus plantation timber, 2016, wwi, Accessed 21.09.22
    2. Biomimicry and Energy Efficiency, Vaeec, 2018, Accessed 23.09.22
    Frequently Asked Questions about Resources on Earth

    Why is water the most important resource on earth? 

    Water is the most important resource on earth because the form that we need the most, which is freshwater, can be energy-intensive to obtain, distribute to a large population, and then clean.

    What are the water resources on earth?

    The water resources on Earth are groundwater, saltwater and surface water. 

    How are natural resources distributed on earth?

    The way natural resources are distributed on Earth is unequal, and some areas may benefit from different resources, compared to another. 

    Are we running out of resources on earth?

    Yes - we are running out of the non-renewable resources, but at the same time, we are also learning how to extract or reuse old and new ones better and more efficiently.

    What is the rarest resources on earth? 

    The rarest resources on earth are rare Earth elements. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    How are salts NOT useful as an energy resource on Earth?

    What do both the beverage-making industry and fertiliser producers need?

    What is the most abundant resource element of the biosphere?


    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Environmental Science Teachers

    • 11 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App
    Sign up with Email

    Get unlimited access with a free StudySmarter account.

    • Instant access to millions of learning materials.
    • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams, AI tools and more.
    • Everything you need to ace your exams.
    Second Popup Banner