Earth's biosphere is facing a radical change

This week's Nature magazine contains a survey, in which a team of 22 researchers evaluates the probability that the biosphere is approaching a state shift and the likely time of this shift.

Mikael Fortelius

Humanity uses 20 to 40 percent of the planet's basic production. Almost half of the planet's land area is taken up by agriculture or covered by buildings. A considerable part of what remains is pervaded by road networks. Consumption on this scale necessarily has a strong impact on the entire biosphere. Anthony D. Barnosky says:

—We may be seeing a radical change in all of the Earth’s ecosystems in the foreseeable future — even in places where people do not live.

The survey concludes that a state shift will likely occur in a few decades or in a hundred years at the latest. At an estimate, on 10 to 48 percent of the planet's surface, the current climate will disappear and be replaced with something that the current species have not encountered during their existence.

If we are to be able to anticipate changes and prepare for them, methods of predicting them will need to be improved considerably. The researchers propose ways to improve predicting and monitoring the state of the biosphere.

The central aims listed by the survey include curbing population growth and use of the planet's resources, and a swift move away from fossil sources of energy.

One of the writers, professor Mikael Fortelius from the Department of Geosciences and Geography of the University of Helsinki, does not expect the change to bring much good to the humanity. All the same, there may be some cause for optimism:

—If there is something to be hopeful about the way things are now, maybe it is the growing consensus that sustainable development is a much bigger issue than the reasons behind the economic crisis. Now with the Rio+20 summit coming up, I am interested in the talk that sustainable development requires solving not only economic but also social and environmental problems.

Research Database TUHAT: Mikael Fortelius » »

University of California, Berkeley: Anthony D. Barnosky » »

Department of Geosciences and Geography » »

Nature magazine » »

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Text:Maria Niku
Photo: Ari aalto
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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