Most research investigating the biosphere is aimed at determining the effects that human activities are having on its environments and ecosystems. Pollution, fertilizer application, changes in land use, fuel consumption, and other human activities affect nutrient cycles and damage functional components of the biosphere, such as the ozone layer that protects organisms from intense exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation, and the greenhouse effect that moderates the surface temperature of the planet.
For example, fertilizer application increases the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients that organisms can use for growth. An excess nutrient availability can damage lakes through algal blooms and fish kills. Fuel consumption and land clearing increases the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and may cause global warming by intensifying the planet's greenhouse effect.
Recent interest in long-term, manned space operations has spawned research into the development of artificial biospheres. Extended missions in space require that nutrients are cycled in a volume no larger than a building. The Biosphere 2 project, which received a great deal of popular attention in the early 1990s, has provided insight into the difficulty of managing such small, artificial biospheres. Human civilization is also finding that it is difficult to sustainably manage the much larger biosphere of planet Earth.
See also Lithosphere.
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