Boundaries of the systems of our planet

To understand the status of our biosphere, Rockström et al. (2009, Nature) [1] developed the concept of planetary boundaries regarding 9 planetary systems and provided an assessment on whether these systems have already exceeded these limits. Their assessments were updated in a publication by Steffen et al. (2015, Science) [2] (see also [3] for an overview). These articles were published in the highest-ranking journals of science. Consideration should be given to the fast development in this field, which means that the results may need updating already. According to these authors at time of publication the planetary boundaries have been already exceeded regarding:

  • Biodiversity loss (with certainty, high risk)
  • Nitrogen  (with certainty, high risk)
  • Carbondioxide  (“climate change”, with uncertainty, increasing risk)
  • Phosporus  (with uncertainty, increasing risk)
  • Land-system change (with uncertainty, increasing risk)

In my opinion, plastic pollution (in oceans) should be added to the planetary boundaries.

Rockström, 2009, Figure 1:

Update in Steffen, 2015, Figure 3:


  1. Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, A., Chapin, F. S., Lambin, E. F., … Foley, J. A. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461(7263), 472–475. [PDF]
  2. Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J., Cornell, S. E., Fetzer, I., Bennett, E. M., … Sörlin, S. (2015). Sustainability. Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet. Science (New York, N.Y.), 347(6223), 1259855. [PDF]
  3. Schellnhuber, H. J. (2015). Selbstverbrennung: Die fatale Dreiecksbeziehung zwischen Klima, Mensch und Kohlenstoff. München: C. Bertelsmann Verlag.




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