How do humans affect the geosphere? Humans can affect the other areas of Earth, too.
They can affect the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and releasing pollution into them.
They also can impact the hydrosphere by polluting water bodies and affecting the geosphere by piling up garbage in landfills.
The geosphere is the portion of the Earth composed of land, rock, and minerals. Humans interact with it in three main ways:
- They alter it through farming.
- They take from it, such as when they mine for minerals and excavate for construction.
- They modify it through activities like deforestation.
The Four Main Earth’s Spheres
Our home planet, Earth, comprises four spheres: the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the geosphere, and the biosphere.
The word sphere comes from a Greek word meaning “globe” or “ball.” The atmosphere is the layer of gases surrounding an object in space.
We breathe air that is part of the Earth’s atmosphere. The hydrosphere consists of all water on Earth—in oceans, lakes, rivers and streams.
The geosphere includes all rocks, minerals and soil. And finally, the biosphere consists of all living things on our planet.
Human Impacts on the Geosphere
As human beings, we have negative and positive impacts on the geosphere.
The negative consequences are often way more pronounced and overwhelmingly disastrous.
So how do humans negatively affect the geosphere?
- Soil Contamination
- Soil Leaching
Forests are being cleared at an alarming rate. Trees are full of nutrients, and when they break down, these nutrients leach into the soil.
When trees are gone, the soil is more likely to be blown or washed away by rain. Floods are more likely in a deforested area because there are no trees to absorb water.
When humans cut down trees and other plants that have grown for many years, the soil becomes less stable.
When the soil is unstable and not supported by plants, landslides can occur.
These can affect the geosphere because it may cause rivers to change their path, hills to become eroded, and can even kill nearby wildlife.
Fact: The loss of forests also causes climate change, as trees are no longer there to absorb carbon dioxide.
Ultimately, this leads to the extinction of many plant and animal species.
Man-made erosion results from agriculture, construction, and mining.
Until the invention of tools and machines that enabled faster erosion, humans primarily used sticks and stones to shape the landscape.
As water moves across the Earth along streams and rivers, it picks up and carries away pieces of rock and sweep away fertile agricultural soil layers.
Water carries this rock, soil, and other debris downstream, depositing it in other areas it crosses.
Over time, this process reshapes the area’s topography and even changes a stream or river’s flow direction.
The effects of soil erosion go beyond the loss of fertile land.
Degraded lands are also less able to hold onto water, which can worsen flooding which is even more devastating to the Earth’s surface.
Note: Agencies monitoring water quality have found increases in pollutants and sediment in streams and rivers.
This has resulted from the spread of eroded land, leading to declines in fish and other species.
Urbanization refers to the migration of people from rural areas to towns or cities, the resulting decrease in the proportion of residents living in rural areas, and the social effects of this change.
Urbanization has many adverse effects on society.
It ranges from congestion and crowded living spaces in cities to the destruction of farmland, the destruction of biodiversity, and increased contact with diseases.
Ever Growing Settlements
Urban areas are expanding globally, and humans can no longer be considered separate from nature.
The removal of thousands of acres of trees and plants each year affects the geosphere in that many former forests are being replaced by roadways, parking lots, and other spaces.
Additionally, drainage systems have changed stream flows and formed lakes where none existed before.
These massive changes will affect the lives of both humans and non-human creatures living in the area.
Dry, arid lands can be devastated by “desertification”—the degradation process resulting from human activity.
The term usually refers to a region’s changing land conditions that result in an increase in desert-like conditions.
This degradation is accelerated by unsustainable levels of human activity, such as overgrazing, intensive agriculture, and poor soil management.
When fertile soil is depleted of nutrients, it becomes less able to sustain plant growth. Changing weather patterns also cause desertification.
They are becoming more common due to climate change and human activity that overexploits the land.
The land is an essential part of the lithosphere (upper part of the geosphere).
Fact: Already, two billion hectares of land have been degraded
This number continues to rise; four billion football fields worth of arable land have been rendered unusable as a result of desertification.
When examining how do humans affect the geosphere, mining has some of the most disastrous effects.
Mining operations can have an adverse environmental impact, including the exhaustion of natural resources and soil, groundwater, and surface water contamination.
In addition to clearing trees for mining purposes, some mining companies also clear-cut forests in mining areas.
That way, they can store created debris and soil in the gap where the trees once stood.
Collapse of underground mines can cause surface subsidence. Water flowing through and from underground mines can pick up water pollutants from chemicals used by mining companies during processing.
Some minerals need to be processed by beneficiation, which separates ore from waste materials, resulting in tailings piles.
Lithosphere and Mining
Because mining companies dig deep into the Earth, they change the surface layer above them, called the lithosphere.
Mining has lasting impacts on the lithosphere, damaging future use of that land.
For example, mining might cause a sinkhole to form (a hole in the ground) or dry out an aquifer (an underground layer of water).
Soil pollution can chemically erode rocks and minerals. Chemicals released into the soil by industry often cause this chemical erosion when they react with water.
Chemical corrosion can occur when sulphur dioxide or carbon dioxide from industrial emissions react with water to form sulfuric acid that chemically disintegrates rocks and minerals.
The contamination of underground aquifers by hazardous waste can be a serious long-term problem for many areas of the world.
Farming on a small scale or industrial scale level has since been known for soil leaching.
Through its high solubility and mobility, nutrient leaching is one of the leading causes of soil degradation.
Nutrient leaching is the loss of nutrients from the soil to a drainage medium.
When water percolating through the soil encounters a surface of waterproof material, some of it is diverted and flows over the impervious surface.
Surface Runoff and Leaching
This may occur in roads, patios, driveways, or ditches where runoff is concentrated into discrete flow paths.
The key points are that water with nutrients –mainly nitrogen and phosphorus- percolate (percolation) through the soil and lose these nutrients in drainage water that may end up in other layers of the geosphere.
With all the harmful effects of human activities, one would wonder how do humans positively affect the geosphere?
Here are some of we can affect the geosphere positively:
- Start a dam-building moratorium. Dams help protect against the effects of persistent soil erosion.
- Encourage businesses that grow food to stop using pesticides that contain chemicals harmful to the lithosphere.
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The question – how do humans affect the geosphere? – is an important one since it helps us understand both the positive and negative effects of our actions on one of the Earth’s most essential spheres, the geosphere.
One of the best ways to preserve the geosphere is to start a reforestation program and create environmental regulations.
Reforestation helps protect the lithosphere from the disastrous effects of soil erosion. Trees and other vegetation have been known to slow down surface runoff significantly.