BILLIONS of years ago a star began to die. In the process, it created something new: 65,500 billion tonnes of carbon that would later be incorporated into the nascent planet Earth. That carbon is still there, and nowadays a fair chunk of it makes up the bodies of living beings. A new study, published this week by Yinon Bar-On and others from the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Israel, provides a comprehensive estimate of how the Earth’s carbon stock is distributed among its inhabitants.

By estimating the amount of carbon stored in organisms, otherwise known as biomass, the scientists were able to compare the relative abundance of different kinds of Earth’s life, weighing both the microbes beneath the soil and the giraffes walking above it on the same scale. The mammals known as human beings like to imagine themselves the lords of the planet. But in terms of raw biomass, the results—published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—tell a different…Continue reading

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