The composition, mass, and annual production of the living matter within the biosphere
Chemical element Content, % (in terms of mass) Mass, tonnes Annual production, tonnes per year
O 70.0 4.5×1012 2.6×1011
C 18.0 1.3×1012 (3.1×1010)
H 10.5 6.7×1011 1.6×1010
Ca 0.5 3.2×1010 -
N 0.3 1.9×1010 2.5×1010
K 0.3 1.9×1010 -
Si 0.2 1.3×1010 -
P 0.07 4.5×109 5.6×108
S 0.05 3.2×109 -
Mg 0.04 2.6×109 -
Na 0.02 1.3×109 -
Cl 0.02 1.3×109 -
Fe 0.01 6.5×108 8.0×107
Al 0.005 3.2×108 1.1×108
Ar 0.002 1.3×108 -
Mn 0.001 6.5×107 6.0×107
B 0.001 6.5×107 -
Ti 0.0008 5.1×107 8.0×106
F 0.0005 3.2×107 -
Zn 0.0005 3.2×107 7.2×106
Rb 0.0005 3.2×107 8.0×106
Cu 0.0002 1.3×107 1.6×106
Br 0.00015 9.6×106 -
Ni 0.00005 3.2×106 4.0×105
Pb 0.00005 3.2×106 8.0×104
As 0.00003 1.9×106 2.4×103
Co 0.00002 1.3×106 1.2×105
Mo 0.00001 6.4×105 1.6×105
Li 0.00001 6.4×105 8.3×104
V 0.00001 6.4×105 -
Cs 0.00001 6.4×105 -
Note. The dash means the absence of the data.

BIOSPHERE (from the Greek words "bios" (life) and "sphaira" (ball) * EN: biosphere; DE: Biosphare; FR: biosphere; ES: biosfera; RU: биосфера) is the global self-regulating open system, which is enclosing and transforming the material of the significant part of the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere, thanks to the past and modern activity of the living organisms.

The term "biosphere" has been introduced by the Austrian geologist Eduard Suess (1875), who understood as the biosphere the shell of the life on the surface of the mainlands. The definition of the biosphere as the space for the existence of the living matter, and as the spaces within the Earth's crust, which are occupied by the transformers of the cosmic energy into the earthen one, belongs to V. I. Vernadsky (1911).

Biosphere is the part of the mega-biosphere, namely, of the complex envelope of the Earth, which is comprising the atmosphere, hydrosphere, stratosphere, and the para-metamorphic rocks within the lithosphere. Biosphere is the space for the active life, the part of the multi-shell structure of the Earth, from the ozone layer screen within the atmosphere, to the lifeless deep layers of the lithosphere.

The biosphere proper is underlain with the meta-biosphere, and is overlain with the para-biosphere (the zone of the flying or drifting by the air flows of the living organisms), and with the apo-biosphere (the upper boundary for the distribution of the forms of life during the state of the suspended animation). The meta-biosphere corresponds to the "past biospheres", according to Vernadsky, namely, the layers of the Earth's crust, which are now devoid of life, but were formed with the re-processed living matter during the past geological epochs. The biosphere is mosaical according to the structure and composition, and, depending on the heterogeneity of the face of the Earth (for example, oceans, mountains), the living matter is unevenly distributed within the biosphere. The vast oceanic spaces are relatively poor with the living matter; it is concentrated mainly within the shallow waters and estuarine zones of the rivers. On the dry land, there is most significant the biomass of the forest (300-500 tonnes per hectare). The biomass of the ground-surface soil-dwelling animals of the entire biosphere amounts to approximately 500 million tonnes of the dry matter; the total biomass of the remaining animals on the dry land is lesser by the 1-2 orders of magnitude. The biomass of the worldwide ocean comprises 300 million tonnes of the vegetable matter, and 6 billion tonnes of the zooplankton and benthos in terms of the dry weight. The total biomass of the bacteria and other microorganisms is, probably, more significant, than the biomass of the multicellular organisms.

The renovation of all the living matter within the biosphere of the Earth proceeds during the 8-10 years; during this process, the phytomass of the dry land renovates itself during approximately 15 years, and the phytomass of the worldwide ocean renovates itself during one day; all the biomass of the worldwide ocean renovates itself during the 33 days. There participate within the circulation of the matter within the biosphere all the chemical elements, which are known within the Earth's crust, and also the artificial elements, which have been obtained during the processes of the nuclear fusion, and which have been introduced into the biosphere during the start of the atomic bombings and subsequent tests of the nuclear weapons.

Within the biosphere, there have been identified more than 500 thousand species of plants, and approximately 1.5 million species of animals. There is practically infinite the diversity of the particular ecosystems (biogeocenosises), namely, of the long-duration sustainable and self-replicating complexes of the mutually associated species of the living organisms, and of the abiotic sources of matter and energy within the environment.

Biosphere is the powerful factor for the geological transformations, under the influence of which there change themselves the methods and ways for the migration of the chemical elements, form themselves new chemical compounds, sharply increases the intensity of the weathering processes, and of the separation of elements and isotopes, forms itself the chemical composition of the waters and gases.

Within the ecosystems, there is concentrated the major mass of the functioning living matter, approximately 300 billion tonnes in terms of the dry mass, or 0.01% in terms of the mass of the Earth's crust. The continuously ongoing process for the exchange of the huge intensity has led to the re-processing by organisms of the mass of matter, which is by many times greater not only than biomass, but also (during the entire geological time) than the mass of the Earth's crust (see the Table).

Within the limits of the biosphere, there may be found everywhere the living organisms or the traces of their activity. The gases of the atmosphere, lithosphere, and hydrosphere (oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons) have mainly the biogenic nature. There are biogenic the natural waters, caustobioliths (petroleums, coals, bituminous limestones, and so on), organogenic limestones, and their metamorphic analogues (marbles, carbonaceous shales, graphitic rocks). There are the natural limits for the development of life the increased and decreased temperatures, pressures, and radiation. The field for the stability of the life (extreme limits for the survival of organisms) is extensive: from the extreme oceanic depths to the atmospheric heights with the magnitude of 25-30 kilometres. The field for the existence of the life (the region for the reproduction of organisms) is significantly smaller: from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to the top of Qomolangma (Everest), and, within the strata of the rocks, the depth for the penetration of the life (the anaerobic microflora within the underground waters) exceeds 3 kilometres.

Biosphere is the major accumulator of the solar energy within the upper layers of the Earth's crust. The geological functions of biosphere comprise, in particular, the destruction of the inert (mineral) material, the forming of the bioinert systems (such as soil), the transfer of material against the force of gravity, and along the horizontal direction (the consequence of the expansion of life), the selective accumulation of the compounds and chemical elements within the living organisms, and within the products of metabolism, the acceleration of the energetical exchange during the photosynthesis, during the decomposition of the substances, which are saturated with energy, the transfer of the energy along the food chain. During the process of photosynthesis alone, there accumulates annually, redistributing itself, the significant mass of carbon, phosphorus, chromium, manganese, molybdenum, iron, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, and other elements, which is sometimes commensurate with the explored reserves within the bowels of the planet. Within the Domanik facies of the various epochs (since Proterozoic, till our time), during the short time intervals (5-20 million years), there have been accumulated the huge reserves of hydrocarbons, uranium, and other metals. The abilities of the biosphere for accumulation are especially clearly expressed during the processes for the forming of the deposits with petroleum, coal, and petroleum shales.

Biosphere plays the active role within the gas balance of the planet. The endogenous flows of helium (the "helium breath", according to Vernadsky) combine themselves with the flows of the juvenile hydrocarbon gases and 40Ar element; the carbon dioxide is partly juvenile, and is partly the product from the processing of the organic substances within the past biosphere. The primary water within the atmosphere of the Earth had the endogenous origin, but, after the emergence of the living matter, the mass and the quality of the atmosphere depend on the activity of the biogeocenosises and of the technogenesis.

There belong to the list of the non-restorable limited resources of the biosphere the useful minerals. The extraction of the mineral resources is characterized by the ever increasing extents, the decreasing of the tempos of the growth of which is possible on the account of the decreasing the losses (within the bowels of the Earth, during the beneficiation, and during the final re-processing). There assists to this process the intoduction of the integrated, wasteless production, with the recycling of all the useful components. The expansion of the areas, which are occupied by the open pit developments, has posed the economic problem for the preservation of the landscape, fertile soil, surface and ground waters.

The growth of population, and the ever increasing tempos for the consumption of the primary resources from biosphere, predetermine the creation of the global combination of measures for the protection of the biosphere. There has been initiated by the international agreements the start of the researches for the "Person and Biosphere" problem within the frameworks of the various international and national programs (see the "Protection of the environment" article). In particular, there are being created, and are being implemented, the wasteless technologies. There are developing themselves the progressive methods for the excavation of the rock mass, with the filling of the goaf spaces with the inert materials. There are being included into the processing the discarded ores and the tailings from the beneficiation. There are being used the borehole, heap, and factory leaching, in combination with the bacterial methods for the extracting of the components.