We have been creating copious amounts of stuff be it infrastructure or machinery or small things such as needles, CDs, etc. and according to a new study all these things put together – ‘technosphere’ – now weighs an enormous 30 trillion tons.
Some would say that we have burdened the Earth with all the stuff we have created, but that beside the point here as the study intends to signal towards the staggering amount of physical structures and material we have been creating to keep our special alive and kicking. No other species on the planet would likely have created so much of stuff for their sustenance.
A team led by geologists at University of Leicester have for the first time estimated the size of the physical structures that humans have been building up. They have published their findings in journal The Anthropocene Review wherein they have stated that the ‘technosphere’ now weighs approximately 30 trillion tons and this represents a mass of more than 50 kilos for every square metre of the Earth’s surface.
Scientists define 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. 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.
One of the major issues with the technosphere is that it is remarkably poor at recycling its own materials in comparison to the biosphere which is highly efficient at the recycling process. Scientists point out that this recycling limitation of technosphere could be its undoing and could possibly barricade its further success or even halt it altogether.
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.