An international team led by University of Leicester 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 includes physical human-made structures such as houses, factories, smartphones, farms, mines, roads, airports, computer systems, together with its discarded waste, explains Professors Jan Zalasiewicz from the University of Leicester.
He and his colleagues Mark Williams and Colin Waters in a new paper published in the journal The Anthropocene Review outline that all products of our technology now outnumber the planet’s biotic species. “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”, Professor Williams said.
The technosphere may be geologically young, but it is evolving with furious speed. “There is more to the technosphere than just its mass,” observes Professor Waters. “It has enabled the production of an enormous array of material objects, from simple tools and coins, to ballpoint pens, books, and CDs, to the most sophisticated computers and smartphones. Many of these, if entombed in strata, can be preserved into the distant geological future as ‘technofossils’ that will help characterize and date the Anthropocene.”
The Anthropocene, according to their concept, is an epoch highlighting the impact humans have made to the planet.
Unfortunately, they think the technosphere, compared with the biosphere, is remarkably poor at recycling its own materials. The millions of tons of man-made products are produced every year, and Professor Zalasiewicz considers what impact the technosphere will leave behind on the planet’s fossil record.
He emphasizes that it will be buried deep as any other conglomeration of earthly materials, forming timelines of past eras for future generations to uncover.
The Technosphere project is a multi-year research platform that includes publications, workshops, exhibitions, and conferences.