An artificial system is growing on the Earth’s surface and it’s entirely the creation of an all-human species. It is now being dubbed the “technosphere.” It is the system that is made up of all man-made structures, from factories, streets, and landfills to computers, cars, and clothes. And garbage, lots and lots of garbage. The concept of the technosphere was first coined by Duke University geologist Peter Haff a few years ago. Now, Haff and a team of international scientists led by researchers from the University of Leicester have made the first measurement of the man-made system, and it’s absolutely, humongous, large. Measuring a system as massive and expansive as the technosphere isn’t easy. The researchers and scientists had to make generalized estimates to arrive at a global figure. This is according to the lead researcher and University of Leicester professor, Jan Zalasiewicz.
Professor Zalasiewicz and his team used published estimates on areas like cropland and pastureland, and made estimates of the thickness of the surface and modified ground underneath. “For instance,” he said, “for cities, geologists have mapped the ‘artificial ground’ that lies beneath, and these kinds of data have been used as a basis for a global estimate.” The total measurement rounded out to some 30 trillion tons, or roughly 37 pounds per every square foot of Earth’s surface. Some of this is trash and garbage that have just been thrown away and now sit just under the surface soil after being half buried by weather conditions. But the technosphere isn’t just dead weight on top the planet. It is a functioning system with its own internal dynamics, which humans drive but cannot ever control.
This technosphere interconnects with, and incorporates material from, all of the other ‘spheres’ of the Earth. A striking characteristic currently, in comparison with the biosphere, is its ability to recycle materials. While the biosphere has refined its recycling over the course of billions of years, the technosphere has not yet honed its recycling course. This is because much of the “garbage” lying around may not be able to be recyclable naturally, and so, needs to be picked up and recycled through artificial means. As we all learn in school, the biosphere is almost capable of full recycling courses. However, the technosphere is creating very large waste masses, and this is currently significantly degrading the biosphere. In short, the technosphere is contributing to the pollution levels of the earth. And it’s growing, according to the researchers who published a paper detailing their work in the journal, The Anthroprocene Review. The evolution rate of the technosphere is far faster than that of the biosphere. If it can resolve problems such as the poor recycling rate, it may overcome its ‘growing pains’ to become a stable component within the Earth System as a whole. But if not, then these problems may slow or stop its growth.