Earth from space

More techno-species than bio-species on Earth, study finds

Image credit: Nasa

The number of types of technological objects created by humans now outnumbers the number of biological species currently living on Earth, according to a new study.

According to researchers from the University of Leicester, all the human-made objects currently existing on Earth - the so-called technosphere - collectively weighs some 30 trillion tons, which is about 50 kilos per square metre of the planet’s surface.

“The technosphere is a major new phenomenon of this planet and one that is evolving extraordinarily rapidly,” said Professor Mark Williams from the University of Leicester.

Houses, factories, roads, cars, computers, phones, landfill and all other types of man-made objects and structures belong in the technosphere, which is now replicating itself and proliferating at rocket speed, enabling the fast creation of new objects.

The problem, however, is that unlike the biosphere which constantly recycles itself, the technosphere is mostly using up precious natural resources without giving anything back to the Earth’s ecosystem.

“The technosphere can be said to have budded off the biosphere and arguably is now at least partly parasitic on it,” Professor Williams said. “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.”

Although created by the humans, the technosphere is now living a partially independent life.

“The technosphere is a system with its own dynamics and energy flows and humans have to help keep it going to survive,” said Professor Jan Zalasiewicz, who cooperated on the study published in the journal The Anthropocene Review.

“The technosphere may be geologically young, but it is evolving with furious speed and it has already left a deep imprint on our planet.”

According to American scientist Peter Haff, the technosphere is the hallmark of the Anthropocene, a new epoch in history where nature is not the only force shaping life on the planet.

By measuring the technosphere, researchers believe, it is possible to assess the impact humans have had on the Earth.

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