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Introduction to the lithosphere
The lithosphere involves the crust and the upper part of the mantle beneath the crust.
One of the four 'spheres' - bio-, hydro-, atmo- and lithosphere - the lithosphere shows
processes and dynamic equilibrium least obviously.
The lithosphere provides resources and services in a number of very different ways:
physical resources for human exploitation such as mined metal ores, non-metal
minerals and fossil fuels.
biochemical cycles, which recycle essential biological elements such as carbon,
nitrogen and phosphorus.
through soil, which provides the growth medium for most plants on land, the
habitat for many organisms and the location for part of all the biochemical
Resources that we exploit by digging them up or using them in situ are found in the
surface layers of the lithosphere. The crust is 5 to 70 km thick and no drilling has
managed to get all the way through it. Very few mines are more than a few hundred
metres deep and even the deepest mines (for gold) are only about 4,000m deep.
Some processes in the lithosphere are fast and can rapidly replace resources that are
exploited. As long as exploitation is responsible then the natural process will continue to
Some resources are replaced by geological processes that can be very slow. Almost any
exploitation can be faster than the replacement rate and therefore be unsustainable. It is
important not to use these resources irresponsibly if they are to be useable for as long
Use of resources removed from the lithosphere can also cause pollution when they are
released in locations or in quantities that would not naturally occur.
Mineral resources include the rocks and fossil fuels that are removed from the crust
to be used, after processing if necessary.
Fossil fuels: Metals: Non-metals:
Coal Iron Sand
Crude oil Aluminium Gravel
Natural gas Copper Clay moulded
Chromium China clay