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Research finds Earths technosphere now weighs 30 trillion tons

An international team led by our geologists has made the first estimate of the sheer size of the physical structure of the planet’s technosphere – suggesting that its mass approximates to an enormous 30 trillion tons.

The technosphere is comprised of all of the structures that humans have constructed to keep them alive on the planet – from houses, factories and farms to computer systems, smartphones and CDs, to the waste in landfills and spoil heaps.

In a new paper published in the journal The Anthropocene Review, Professors Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams and Colin Waters from our Department of Geology led an international team suggesting that the bulk of the planet’s technosphere is staggering in scale, with some 30 trillion tons representing a mass of more than 50 kilos for every square metre of the Earth’s surface.

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 Williams said: “The technosphere can be said to have budded off the biosphere and arguably is now at least partly parasitic on it. At its current scale the technosphere is a major new phenomenon of this planet – and one that is evolving extraordinarily rapidly."

The researchers believe the technosphere is some measure of the extent to which we have reshaped our planet. 

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. 

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

The research is associated with the major new project of Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt on the technosphere.

An audio interview about the technosphere with Professors Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams is available here:

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