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The biosphere

1.The Part Of The Earth's Crust, Waters, And Atmosphere That Supports Life.
2.The Ecosystem Comprising The Entire Earth And The Living Organismsthat Inhabit It.

The biosphere, (from Greek bios = life, sphaira, sphere) is the layer of the planet
Earth where life exists. This layer ranges from heights of up to ten kilometres above
sea level, used by some birds in flight, to depths of the ocean such as the Puerto
Rico trench, at more than 8 kilometres deep. These are the extremes; however, in
general the layer of the Earth containing life is thin: the upper atmosphere has little
oxygen and very low temperatures, while ocean depths greater than 1000 m are
dark and cold. In fact, it has been said that the biosphere is like the peel in relation
to the size of an apple.
The development of the term is attributed to the English geologist Eduard Suess
(1831-1914) and the Russian physicist Vladimir I. Vernadsky (1863-1945). The
biosphere is one of the four layers that surround the Earth along with the
lithosphere (rock), hydrosphere (water) and atmosphere (air) and it is the sum of all
the ecosystems.
The biosphere is unique. So far there has been no existence of life elsewhere in the
universe. Life on Earth depends on the sun. Energy, provided as sun light, is
captured by plants, some bacteria and protists, in the marvellous phenomenon of
photosynthesis. The captured energy transforms carbon dioxide into organic
compounds such as sugars and produces oxygen. The vast majority of species of
animals, fungi, parasitic plants and many bacteria depend directly or indirectly on
photosynthesis.
In the late 70's ecosystems were discovered which were relatively independent of
the sun. From fissures in the deepest ocean, water of extremely high temperature
(400 C) vents out, heated by the magma beneath the Earth's crust. On contact
with the cold water dissolved minerals precipitate, forming chimneys that can reach
great heights. In the vicinity of hydrothermal vents exists a dense animal
community that is dependent on chemosynthetic bacteria. The bacteria use and
convert sulphur compounds driven out by the hot water and are preyed upon by a
variety of animals including small crustaceans (amphipods and copepods), which in
turn are prey for snails, crabs, shrimp, worms, giant tube worms, fish and octopus.
Gaia hypothesis. English chemist James Lovelock (1919 - ) proposed the hypothesis
that the Earth functions as an interactive system in which living things have an
influence on their physical characteristics and vice versa. Gaia, also known as Gea,
was the Greek goddess of the Earth and regarded as mother goddess. She was
equivalent to the Roman goddess Terra.

The biosphere is made up of the parts of Earth where life exists. The biosphere
extends from the deepest root systems of trees, to the dark environment of ocean
trenches, to lush rain forests and high mountaintops.
Scientists describe the Earth in terms of spheres. The solid surface layer of the
Earth is the lithosphere. Theatmosphere is the layer of air that stretches above the
lithosphere. The Earths wateron the surface, in the ground, and in the airmakes
up the hydrosphere.
Since life exists on the ground, in the air, and in the water, the biosphere overlaps
all these spheres. Although the biosphere measures about 20 kilometers (12 miles)
from top to bottom, almost all life exists between about 500 meters (1,640 feet)
below the oceans surface to about 6 kilometers (3.75 miles) above sea level.
Origin of the Biosphere
The biosphere has existed for about 3.5 billion years. The biospheres earliest lifeforms, called prokaryotes, survived without oxygen. Ancient prokaryotes included
single-celled organisms such as bacteria and archaea.
Some prokaryotes developed a unique chemical process. They were able to use
sunlight to make simple sugars and oxygen out of water and carbon dioxide, a
process calledphotosynthesis. These photosynthetic organisms were so plentiful
that they changed the biosphere. Over a long period of time, the atmosphere
developed a mix of oxygen and other gases that could sustain new forms of life.
The addition of oxygen to the biosphere allowed more complex life-forms to evolve.
Millions of different plants and other photosynthetic species developed. Animals,
which consume plants (and other animals) evolved. Bacteria and other organisms
evolved to decompose, or break down, dead animals and plants.
The biosphere benefits from this food web. The remains of dead plants and animals
release nutrients into the soil and ocean. These nutrients are re-absorbed by
growing plants. This exchange of food and energy makes the biosphere a selfsupporting and self-regulating system.
The biosphere is sometimes thought of as one largeecosystema complex

community of living and nonliving things functioning as a single unit. More often,
however, the biosphere is described as having many ecosystems.

Biosphere Reserves
People play an important part in maintaining the flow of energy in the biosphere.
Sometimes, however,peopledisrupt the flow. For example, in the atmosphere,
oxygen levels decrease and carbon dioxide levels increase when people
clear forests or burn fossil fuels such as coal andoil. Oil spills and industrial wastes
threaten life in the hydrosphere. The future of the biosphere will depend on how
people interact with other living things within the zone of life.
In the early 1970s, the United Nations established a project called Man and the
Biosphere Programme (MAB), which promotes sustainable development. A network
of biosphere reserves exists to establish a working, balanced relationship between
people and the natural world.

Currently, there are 563 biosphere reserves all over the world. The first biosphere
reserve was established in Yangambi, Democratic Republic of Congo. Yangambi, in
the fertile Congo River Basin, has 32,000 species of trees and such endemic
species as forest elephants and red river hogs. The biosphere reserve at Yangambi
supports activities such as sustainable agriculture, hunting, andmining.
One of the newest biosphere reserves is in Yayu, Ethiopia. The area is developed
for agriculture. Crops such as honey, timber, and fruit are regularly cultivated.
However, Yayus most profitable and valuable resource is an indigenousspecies of
plant, Coffea arabica. This shrub is the source ofcoffee. Yayu has the largest source
of wild Coffea arabicain the world.

Biosphere
The biosphere is the space on or near Earth's surface that contains and supports living organisms.
It is subdivided into the lithosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere. The lithosphere is Earth's
surrounding layer, composed of solids such as soil and rock; it is about 80 to 100 kilometers (50
to 60 miles) thick. The atmosphere is the surrounding thin layer of gas. The hydrosphere refers to

liquid environments such as lakes and oceans that lie between the lithosphere and atmosphere.
The biosphere's creation and continuous existence results from chemical, biological, and physical
processes.

Requirements for life


For organisms to live, certain environmental conditions (such as proper temperature and
moisture) must exist, and the organisms must be supplied with energy and nutrients (food). All
the animal and mineral nutrients necessary for life are contained within Earth's biosphere.
Nutrients contained in dead organisms or waste products of living cells are transformed back into
compounds that other organisms can reuse as food. This recycling of nutrients is necessary
because there is no source of food outside the biosphere.

Words to Know
Decomposition: The breakdown of complex moleculesmolecules of which dead organisms
are composedinto simple nutrients that can be reutilized by living organisms.
Energy: Power that can be used to perform work, such as solar energy.
Global warming: Warming of the atmosphere that results from an increase in the concentration
of gases that store heat, such as carbon dioxide.
Nutrient: Molecules that organisms obtain from their environment; they are used for growth,
energy, and various other cellular processes.
Nutrient cycle: The cycling of biologically important elements from one molecular form to
another and back to the original form.
Photosynthesis: Process in which plants capture light energy from the Sun and use it to convert
carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and organic molecules.
Respiration: Chemical reaction between organic molecules and oxygen that produces carbon
dioxide, water, and energy.

Energy is needed for the functions that organisms perform, such as growth, movement, waste
removal, and reproduction. It is the only requirement for life that is supplied from a source
outside the biosphere. This energy is received from the Sun. Plants capture sunlight and use it to
convert carbon dioxide and water into organic molecules, or food, in a process called
photosynthesis. Plants and some microorganisms are the only organisms that can produce their
own food. Other organisms, including humans, rely on plants for their energy needs.
The major elements or chemical building blocks that make up all living organisms are carbon,
oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. Organisms are able to acquire these elements only if
they occur in usable
chemical forms as nutrients. In a process called the nutrient cycle, the elements are transformed
from one chemical form to another and then back to the original form. For example, carbon
dioxide is removed from the air by plants and incorporated into organic compounds (such as
carbohydrates) by photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is returned to the atmosphere when plants and
animals break down organic molecules (a process known as respiration) and when
microorganisms break down wastes and tissue from dead organisms (a process known as
decomposition).

Evolution of the biosphere


During Earth's long history, life-forms have drastically altered the chemical composition of the
biosphere. At the same time, the biosphere's chemical composition has influenced which lifeforms inhabit Earth. In the past, the rate at which nutrients were transformed from one chemical
form to another did not always equal their transformation back to their original form. This has
resulted in a change in the relative concentrations of chemicals such as carbon dioxide and
oxygen in the biosphere. The decrease in carbon dioxide and increase in atmospheric oxygen that
occurred over time was due to photosynthesis occurring at a faster rate than respiration. The
carbon that was present in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide now lies in fossil fuel deposits and
limestone rock.
Scientists believe that the increase in atmospheric oxygen concentration influenced the evolution
of life. It was not until oxygen reached high concentrations such as exist on Earth today that
multicellular organisms like ourselves could have evolved. We require high oxygen

concentrations to accommodate our high respiration rates and would not be able to survive had
the biosphere not been altered by the organisms that came before us.

Current developments
Most research on the biosphere is to determine the effect that human activities have on the
environmentespecially on nutrient cycles. Application of fertilizers increases the amount of
nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients that organisms can use for growth. These excess
nutrients damage lakes, causing overgrowth of algae and killing fish. Fuel consumption and land
clearing increase carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and may cause global warming (a
gradual increase in Earth's temperature) as a result of carbon dioxide's excellent ability to trap
heat.

Gaia Hypothesis
The Gaia hypothesis (pronounced GAY-a), named for the Greek Earth goddess Gaea, is a recent
and controversial theory that views Earth as an integrated, living organism rather than as a mere
physical object in space. The Gaia hypothesis suggests that all organisms and their environments
(making up the biosphere) work together to maintain physical and chemical conditions on Earth
that promote and sustain life. According to the hypothesis, organisms interact with the
environment as a homeostatic (balancing) mechanism for regulating such conditions as the
concentrations of atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide. This system helps to maintain
conditions within a range that is satisfactory for life. Although scientists agree that organisms and
the environment have an influence on each other, there is little support within the scientific
community for the notion that Earth is an integrated system capable of regulating conditions to
sustain itself. The Gaia hypothesis is a useful concept, however, because it emphasizes the
relationship between organisms and the environment and the effect that human activities have on
them.
One of the most spectacular structures ever built, Biosphere 2 is located in the Sonoran Desert at
the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains not far from Tucson, Arizona. It is the world's largest
greenhouse, made of tubular steel and glass, covering an area of three football fields137,416
square feet (12,766 square meters)and rising to a height of 85 feet (26 meters) above the desert
floor. Within the structure, there is a human habitat and a farm for the Biospherians or inhabitants

to work to provide their own food. There are five other wild habitats or biomes representing a
savannah, a rain forest, a marsh, a desert, and an ocean. Biosphere 2 is completely sealed so no
air or moisture can flow in or out. Nearby are two balloon-like structures that operate like a pair
of lungs for Biosphere 2 by maintaining air pressure inside. Only sunlight and electricity are
provided from outside.
On September 26, 1991, four women and four men from three different countries entered the
Biosphere 2 and the doors were sealed for the two-year-long initial program of survival and
experimentation. During this time, the Biospherians attempted to run the farm and grow their
own food in the company of some pigs, goats, and many chickens. They shared the other biomes
with over 3,800 species of animals and plants that were native to those habitats. The resident
scientists observed the interactions of plants and animals, their reactions to change, and their
unique methods of living. The Biospherians also had the assignment of experimenting with new
methods of cleaning air and water.
On September 26, 1993, the Biospherians emerged from Biosphere 2. It had been the longest
period on record that humans had lived in an "isolated confined environment." Unfortunately, the
experiment did not live up to expectations. The Biospherians experienced many difficulties,
including an unusually cloudy year in the Arizona desert that stunted food crops, rapid growth
and expansion of some ant species, and unusual behavior of bees fooled by the glass walls of the
structure. In 1996, Columbia University took over operation of the facility, opening a visitors'
center later that year. Biosphere 2 has been maintained for study but without human inhabitants.
Its future remains uncertain.
Part of

Encyclopedi

Term

Speech

Definition

absorb

Verb

to soak up.

agriculture

Noun

the art and science of cultivating the

Encyclopedic

land for growing crops (farming) or

Entry:

raising livestock (ranching).

agriculture

ancient

Adjectiv

very old.

c Entry

Part of
Term

Speech

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Definition

c Entry

e
animal

Noun

organisms that have a well-defined


shape and limited growth, can move
voluntarily, acquire food and digest it
internally, and can respond rapidly to
stimuli.

archaea

Plural

(singular: archaeon) a group of tiny

Noun

organisms often living in extreme


environments, such as ocean vents and
salt lakes.

atmosphere

Noun

layers of gases surrounding a planet or

Encyclopedic

other celestial body.

Entry:
atmosphere

bacteria

Plural

(singular: bacterium) single-celled

Noun

organisms found in every ecosystem on


Earth.

basin

biosphere

Noun

Noun

a dip or depression in the surface of the

Encyclopedic

land or ocean floor.

Entry: basin

part of the Earth where life exists.

Encyclopedic
Entry:
biosphere

biosphere
reserve

Noun

location recognized by the United


Nations as important to the relationship
between people and the natural
environment.

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Term

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Definition

carbon dioxide

Noun

greenhouse gas produced by animals

c Entry

during respiration and used by plants


during photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide
is also the byproduct of burning fossil
fuels.
coal

Noun

dark, solid fossil fuel mined from the


earth.

coffee

Noun

plant native to Africa whose dried


berries and seeds are used for a drink
of the same name.

coffee arabica

Noun

species of shrub native to east Africa


and the Arabian Peninsula, whose
berries are harvested for coffee.

consume

Verb

to use up.

crop

Noun

agricultural produce.

Encyclopedic
Entry: crop

cultivate

Verb

to prepare and nurture the land for


crops.

decompose

Verb

to decay or break down.

decrease

Verb

to lower.

disrupt

Verb

to interrupt.

Part of

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Term

Speech

Definition

c Entry

Earth

Noun

our planet, the third from the Sun. The

Encyclopedic

Earth is the only place in the known

Entry: Earth

universe that supports life.


ecosystem

Noun

community and interactions of living

Encyclopedic

and nonliving things in an area.

Entry:
ecosystem

endemic

Noun

species

species that naturally occurs in only


one area or region.

establish

Verb

to form or officially organize.

evolve

Verb

to develop new characteristics based


on adaptation and natural selection.

fertile

food web

Adjectiv

able to produce crops or sustain

agriculture.

Noun

all related food chains in an ecosystem.

Encyclopedic

Also called a food cycle.

Entry: food
web

forest

Noun

ecosystem filled with trees and


underbrush.

forest

Noun

elephant
fossil fuel

species of elephant native to the Congo


River rain forest in Africa.

Noun

coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels


formed from the remains of ancient

Part of
Term

Speech

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Definition

c Entry

plants and animals.


function

Verb

to work or work correctly.

honey

Noun

sweet substance produced by bees


from pollen or nectar.

hunt

Verb

to pursue and kill an animal, usually for


food.

hydrosphere

Noun

all the Earth's water in the ground, on

Encyclopedic

the surface, and in the air.

Entry:
hydrosphere

indigenous

Adjectiv

characteristic to or of a specific place.

e
industrial

lithosphere

Adjectiv

having to do with factories or

mechanical production.

Noun

outer, solid portion of the Earth. Also

Encyclopedic

called the geosphere.

Entry:
lithosphere

lush

Adjectiv

abundant and rich.

e
Man and the

Noun

United Nations program established to

Biosphere

support a working, balanced

Programme

relationship between people and the

(MAB)

natural world.

mining

Noun

process of extracting ore from the

Part of
Term

Speech

Encyclopedi
Definition

c Entry

Earth.
mountain

Noun

landmass that forms as tectonic plates


interact with each other.

nutrient

Noun

substance an organism needs for

Encyclopedic

energy, growth, and life.

Entry:
nutrient

ocean trench

Noun

a long, deep depression in the ocean

Encyclopedic

floor.

Entry: ocean
trench

oil

Noun

fossil fuel formed from the remains of


marine plants and animals. Also known
as petroleum or crude oil.

oil spill

Noun

accidental release of petroleum


products into a body of water, either by
an oil tanker or an offshore oil rig.

oxygen

Noun

chemical element with the symbol O,


whose gas form is 21% of the Earth's
atmosphere.

photosynthesi

Noun

process by which plants turn water,


sunlight, and carbon dioxide into water,
oxygen, and simple sugars.

plant

Noun

organism that produces its own food


through photosynthesis and whose cells
have walls.

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Term

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Definition

profitable

Adjectiv

able to make money.

c Entry

e
prokaryote

Noun

organism whose cells have no nucleus.

rain forest

Noun

area of tall, mostly evergreen trees and

Encyclopedic

a high amount of rainfall.

Entry: rain
forest

red river hog

Noun

mammal (pig) native to African rain


forests.

resource

Noun

available supply of materials, goods, or


services. Resources can be natural or
human.

root system

Noun

all of a plant's roots.

shrub

Noun

type of plant, smaller than a tree but


having woody branches.

soil

Noun

top layer of the Earth's surface where


plants can grow.

sphere

Noun

round object.

sugar

Noun

type of chemical compound that is


sweet-tasting and in some form
essential to life.

sustainable
agriculture

Noun

processes for growing crops and raising


livestock that makes the most efficient

Part of
Term

Speech

Encyclopedi
Definition
use of resources. Sustainable
agriculture aims to cultivate the land so
it may be used by future generations.

sustainable

Noun

development

human construction, growth, and


consumption that can be maintained
with minimal damage to the natural
environment.

timber

Noun

wood in an unfinished form, either trees


or logs.

unique

Adjectiv

one of a kind.

e
United Nations

Noun

international organization that works for


peace, security and cooperation.

c Entry