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4: The Biosphere

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    The biosphere comprises the various regions near the earth’s surface that contain and are dynamically affected by the metabolic activity of the approximately 1.5 million animal species and 0.5 million plant species that are presently known and are still being discovered at a rate of about 10,000 per year. The biosphere is the youngest of the dynamical systems of the earth, having had its genesis about 2 billion years ago. It is also the one that has most profoundly affected the other major environmental systems, particularly the atmosphere and the hydrosphere.

    • 4.1: Chemistry and Energetics of the Life Process
      About a third of the chemical elements cycle through living organisms, which are responsible for massive deposits of silicon, iron, manganese, sulfur, and carbon. Large quantities of methane and nitrous oxide are introduced into the atmosphere by bacterial action, and plants alone inject about 400,000 tons of volatile substances (including some metals) into the atmosphere annually.
    • 4.2: Biogeochemical Evolution
      Present evidence suggests that blue-green algae, and possibly other primitive microbial forms of life, were flourishing 3 billion years ago. This brackets the origin of life to within one billion years; prior to 4 billion years ago, surface temperatures were probably above the melting point of iron, and there was no atmosphere nor hydrosphere.
    • 4.3: Gaia - Bioregulation of the Environment
      The physical conditions under which life as we know it can exist encompass a relatively narrow range of temperature, pH, osmotic pressure, and ultraviolet radiation intensity. It seems remarkable enough that life was able to get started at all; it is even more remarkable that it has continued to thrive in the face of all the perils that have, or could have occurred, during the past 3 billion years or so.

    This page titled 4: The Biosphere is shared under a CC BY-NC 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Stephen Lower via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.