Biosphere integrity is one of the nine planetary boundaries. The biosphere is the air we breathe, the rain we hear, and the animals we see; it is all of the ecosystems, both visible and invisible, that create the fragile atmosphere of our home planet. Many planets have an atmosphere, but few, if any, have a biosphere and are conducive to life. Biosphere integrity is under threat due to human activity on the planet over the past 50 years.
What is the Biosphere?
Earth is a special planet in the galaxy and possibly in the universe, too - it has a biosphere. Of course, planet earth is not the only planet to have an atmosphere - many of them do, including Mars, a close relative of the earth - but the earth is unique since it has a habitable zone for life.
This habitable zone is called the biosphere. The biosphere is made up of many systems of atmosphere and ecology; in short, it is systems such as photosynthesis that create atmospheric conditions conducive to life. The biosphere also includes the oceans, rainforests, and weather.
What is Biosphere Integrity?
In its purest natural form, the biosphere is in perfect balance. Of course, planet earth is a dynamic and changing planet. Like others in the universe, it has undergone periods of volcanic changes, interstellar impacts, and extinctions that have affected its evolution and integrity.
The reason planet earth can sustain intelligent life is that it has settled into a balanced and stable biosphere for a long period. However, the biosphere is a fragile arrangement of systems that can be easily disrupted by substantial changes to the atmosphere and the fragile biota.
Recent Changes to the Biosphere
In recent times, meaning from the mid-1800s until the present day, substantial changes to the biosphere have occurred. Huge amounts of carbon dioxide that once permeated the atmosphere of the planet before photosynthesis buried it underground have been released.
The human demand for food, water, and other natural resources is putting a strain on ecosystems, contaminating the atmosphere and endangering animal life. Balance must be restored to living systems and fragile ecosystems with human collaboration and changes.
Negative Feedback Mechanisms
Negative feedback mechanisms are sometimes referred to as “tipping points”; they are fragile systems on the planet that accelerate change when a threshold is breached. Negative feedback mechanisms are a central concern in climate change because the damage is not reversible.
In the biosphere, negative feedback mechanisms include global warming, the melting of arctic ice and permafrost, ocean acidification, chemical contamination in the land, atmospheric changes, and contamination in water cycles. Ecosystems in the biosphere can be destroyed.
Crossing the Biosphere Boundary
Changes in the biosphere need to be monitored carefully to protect the planet from triggering irreversible processes. In 2005, The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that human activity was responsible for rapid changes to the biosphere integrity over the past 50 years.
The biosphere encompasses many processes and systems and therefore requires a wide range of metrics to generate reliable and measurable data. However, according to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, biosphere integrity is thought to have breached the planetary boundary.
Here’s a collection of some of our articles which have been in our newsletters or published elsewhere.