Humans have burdened the Earth with the stuff they have been creating over the years with a new study suggesting that this ‘technosphere’ now weighs an enormous 30 trillion tons.
Geologists at University of Leicester led an international team of scientists and through their work have made the first ever estimate of the staggering size of the physical structures that we have been building up on the surface of the planet suggesting that this ‘technosphere’ weighs approximately 30 trillion tons, which represents a mass of more than 50 kilos for every square metre of the Earth’s surface.
Published in the journal The Anthropocene Review, the study defines the technosphere as being comprised of all of the structures that humans have constructed over the years – from houses, factories and farms to computer systems, smartphones and CDs, to the waste in landfills and spoil heaps – to keep themselves alive.
The Anthropocene concept — a proposed epoch highlighting the impact humans have made to the planet — has provided an understanding that humans have greatly changed the Earth.
Professor Mark Williams at the University of Leicester says that the technosphere can be considered to have budded off the biosphere, but over the years it has become parasitic in nature and owing to its sheer size has become a major phenomenon of this planet and is evolving rapidly.
“Compared with the biosphere, though, it is remarkably poor at recycling its own materials, as our burgeoning landfill sites show. This might be a barrier to its further success — or halt it altogether”, says Williams.
The researchers believe the technosphere is some measure of the extent to which we have reshaped our planet. It’s not just the mass that is staggering, it is the massive amounts of small objects that we have been and are leaving behind – many of which have already been entombed in the strata. Authors of the study say that these material could effectively be preserved into the distant geological future as ‘technofossils’ that will help characterize and date the Anthropocene.
If technofossils were to be classified as palaeontologists classify normal fossils – based on their shape, form and texture — the study suggests that the number of individual types of ‘technofossil’ now on the planet likely reaches a billion or more — thus far outnumbering the numbers of biotic species now living.
The research suggests the technosphere is another measure of the extraordinary human-driven changes that are affecting the Earth. While the technosphere is geologically young, it is evolving with furious speed, and it has already left a deep imprint on our planet.