biosphere, irregularly shaped envelope of the earth's air, water, and land encompassing the heights and depths at which living things exist. The biosphere is a closed and self-regulating system (see ecology), sustained by grand-scale cycles of energy and of materials—in particular, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, certain minerals, and water. The fundamental recycling processes are photosynthesis, respiration, and the fixing of nitrogen by certain bacteria. Disruption of basic ecological activities in the biosphere can result from pollution.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.