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Scale and diversity of the physical technosphere: a geological perspective

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Published copy (DOI)


  • Catherine Josephine Neal
  • Zalasiewicz , J. Williams, M. Waters, CN. Barnosky,A. Palmesino,J. Rönnskog, A-S. Edgeworth, M. Neal, C.


Publication details

JournalThe Anthropocene Review
DateIn preparation - 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 28 Nov 2016
DatePublished (current) - 1 Apr 2017
Issue number1
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)9-22
Early online date28/11/16
Original languageEnglish


We assess the scale and extent of the physical technosphere, defined here as the summed material output of the contemporary human enterprise. It includes active urban, agricultural and marine components, used to sustain energy and material flow for current human life, and a growing residue layer, currently only in small part recycled back into the active component. Preliminary estimates suggest a technosphere mass of approximately 30 trillion tonnes (Tt), which helps support a human biomass that, despite recent growth, is ~5 orders of magnitude smaller. The physical technosphere includes a large, rapidly growing diversity of complex objects that are potential trace fossils or ‘technofossils’. If assessed on palaeontological criteria, technofossil diversity already exceeds known estimates of biological diversity as measured by richness, far exceeds recognized fossil diversity, and may exceed total biological diversity through Earth’s history. The rapid transformation of much of Earth’s surface mass into the technosphere and its myriad components underscores the novelty of the current planetary transformation.

    Research areas

  • Anthropocene, anthroposphere, artefacts, stratigraphy, technology, technosphere

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