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The Earth's Biosphere - Windows to the Universe

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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
This animation show where and when photosynthesis happens around the world as the seasons come and go. The land in the Northern Hemisphere gets greener each spring and summer, an indication of high rates of photosynthesis, and yellow during autumn as most plants become dormant and the amount of photosynthesis decreases. In tropical rainforest areas, plants live and photosynthesize all year long.
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The Earth's Biosphere

The biosphere is all life on our planet. This includes all the things that are living as well as the remains of those that have died but have not yet decomposed. The biosphere includes life on land and in the oceans - multitudes of plants, animals, fungi, protists, and bacteria.

Have you heard the expression “carbon-based life forms”? The living things on our planet are called carbon-based because they are made of molecules that are chiefly chains of carbon atoms. These carbon chains really add up when you consider the total amount of life on the planet, as scientists do as they make models of the Earth system. Add it all up and the life on our planet contains approximately 1900 gigatons of carbon (that’s heavier than 116 billion school buses.)

The biosphere has a great impact on the non-living parts of the Earth, especially on climate. The impact on climate is mainly due to the connection between the biosphere and the atmosphere. Processes such as photosynthesis and respiration naturally affect the concentrations of gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Microbes in soils can add nitrous oxide gas to the atmosphere. As humans burn components of the biosphere such as fossil fuels, forests, and fields, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are released into the atmosphere.

Russian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky was the first to use the term biosphere to refer to the living component of the Earth in his 1926 book, entitled simply “The Biosphere”.

Last modified May 7, 2007 by Lisa Gardiner.

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The Spring 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, focuses on the ocean, including articles on polar research, coral reefs, ocean acidification, and climate. Includes a gorgeous full color poster!

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF