The Human Impact on the Earth's Surface

There is no agnosticism that human activity has changed the planet, but to what extent?

As it turns out, approximately 95 percent of the planets' surface is experiencing some form of transformation, with 85 percent having signs of multiple types of human influence.

The map below by data scientist Hannah Ker describes humanity's transformation of terrestrial land ecosystems.

The Human Impact on the Earth's Surface mapped

The map is based on the Global Human Modification of Terrestrial Systems data, which traces the physical extent of thirteen anthropogenic stressors across 5 categories.

Human settlement: population density, built‐up areas
Agriculture: cropland, livestock
Transportation: major roads, minor roads, two tracks, railroads
Mining and energy production: mining, oil wells, wind turbines
Electrical infrastructure: powerlines, nighttime lights

The researcher gathered all these factors and scaled their impact from 0 to 1. Then, he mapped these effects. The land's surface was organized into cells of one square kilometer.

Just five percent of the world's lands are untouched by humans, which amounts to nearly seven million km² of the planets' land. Forty-four percent (59 million sq km) is classified as a low modification.

The rest of the land has a moderate to a high degree of transformation: with thirty-four percent classified as moderate (46 million sq km), thirteen percent categorized as high (17 million sq km), and four percent classed as very high modification (5.5 million sq km). This last category is the most noticeable on the map, with parts of China, India, and Italy. 

Below is a glance at how Earth's different biomes fare under this ranking system:

how Earth's different biomes fare under this ranking system:

Out of the fourteen biomes studied, the least changed biomes are tundra, deserts, montane grasslands, boreal and temperate coniferous forests. 

Mangroves, temperate grasslands, Mediterranean forests, Tropical dry, and temperate broadleaf forests are the most modified biomes.

Dense human settlements, farming land uses, infrastructure networks, and manufacturing activities dominate the more highly transformed biomes. These areas are generally subject to 5 or more human stressors concurrently.


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