Earth Loses 50,000 Tonnes of Mass Every Year


According to some calculations, the Earth is losing 50,000 tonnes of mass every single year, even though an extra 40,000 tonnes of space dust converge onto the Earth’s gravity well, it’s still losing weight.

Chris Smith, a microbiologist, and Dave Ansel, a Cambridge University physicist provided the answer in BBC Radio 4’s More or Less program. The 40,000 tonnes of mass that accumulates comes from space dust, remnants of the formation of the solar system.

planets-lose-atmosphereWhen people build structures on Earth, it doesn’t add any mass since they are using baryonic matter that’s already present on the planet. It just changes shape. Launched satellites and rockets that end up in orbit will eventually fall towards Earth’s gravity well.

The Earth’s core loses energy, since much of it is consumed in a planet’s lifespan, but that only accounts for a loss for about 16 tonnes per year. The biggest mass loss comes from escaped hydrogen and helium, which escape with 95,000 tonnes of mass and 1,600 tonnes respectively. These elements are too light to stay permanently in the gravity well, so they tend to escape into space.

escaping-helium-hydrogenThe net loss is about  0.000000000000001% every year, so it doesn’t account for much when compared to the total mass of the Earth, which is 5,972,000,000,000,000,000,000 tonnes. It will take trillions of years for all of the hydrogen to be depleted. Helium represents 0.00052% of the atmosphere and it’s a scarcer element.

[via BBC]

33 Comments on "Earth Loses 50,000 Tonnes of Mass Every Year"

  1. I never realised how much the Earth weighed! I didn’t even know Quintillions existed lol

  2. Madanagopal.V.C | March 23, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Reply

    The loss of Hydrogen from atmosphere is only 10^-15% every year, whereas for complete depletion of Hydrogen , it will take 10^15 years further. We should not talk in terms of actual magnitude of loss of the Earth’s mass, which is very negligible when compared to the actual mass of the Earth which is gigantic in proportions. Same will be the case with every other planet in the Universe. This Hydrogen which was responsible for the formation of stars is going back to the cosmos as interstellar nebula. Being very light, they form solid earths from their nucleosynthesis, and the remaining is sent back to cosmos. Thank You.

  3. Of course it’s losing weight! All systems tend toward disintegration and entropy. It’s an empirically observable fact. Not us, our world, or anything else is built to last forever. It’s just the way it is. Neurosis comes from taking it personally.

  4. Jeremy Keller | May 1, 2014 at 10:17 am | Reply

    How could the Earth possibly be losing mass, according to those calculations? I can understand that the Sun could lose mass, but the Earth?

  5. Madanagopal.V.C. | May 3, 2014 at 2:50 am | Reply

    When stars are having Hydrogen as the primitive substance for nucleosynthesis for the formation of Helium and other elements, why do you exclude earth alone to be devoid of primitive Hydrogen in its atmosphere? Hydrogen is everywhere in the nebulae, galaxies and inter-galactic space. Hydrogen had undergone chemical combination to become CH4, NH3, H2O etc in the planets atmosphere. Not all can combine and the rest major portion of Hydrogen in the primitive atmosphere has got to escape to the surroundings only resulting in depletion of Earth’s mass. Thank You.

  6. Kavya Rayidikavya | October 31, 2014 at 7:28 am | Reply

    If earth losses mass every year will it come to an end one day.i”uka

    • Jeffrey Priessnitz Jr | March 2, 2016 at 11:44 am | Reply

      Same thing I thought. I think it will but it will take 10 quadrillion years. Or even more.

  7. Elliander Eldridge | April 19, 2015 at 1:53 am | Reply

    There is a counter to this though. The lost mass is likely ozone which tje planet can still pick back up as it goes back around the sun. It won’t recover all of it, but some. There are also sources of mass other than cosmic dust – such as meteorites and the occasional asteroid. How much net mass from meteorites enter each year? Can an asteroid impact – as rare as it is – offset the remainong loss?

  8. How do they calculate the mass loss ?
    And if we are talking about Hydrogen and Helium, then we are talking about the atmosphere, not the solid or liquid mass. So, how much mass do we have in the earth’s atmosphere ? Then we can calculate when are we going to stop breathing.
    In the space, the only friction that would take any mass from the earth is the solar wind. Is the solar wind strong enough to rip 50,000 tons of mass from the earth every year?

  9. The earth’s mass is 5.972 × 10^24 kg

  10. According to me mass of earth is increase because sunlight is convert into carbohydrate and carbohydrate is convert into soil so mass is increase

    • Mohammad Oman | July 18, 2016 at 3:39 am | Reply

      This is interesting. I am also wondering whether sunlight increases the mass of earth through photosynthesis process, I’m not sure about that; what about you??

      • At the Rad-41-(meaning)
        Can’t they discovered about that we are decreasing to the earth. Surely that is an art that had been created by Allah…

  11. Steven Sesselmann | May 16, 2016 at 12:49 am | Reply

    I agree with this article, earth is losing mass also by nuclear decay of potassium, uranium and thorium. Earth losing mass is another way of saying ground potential is falling. In my theory (ground potential) I have calculated that ground potential is falling by around 0.005 Volts per year. I hope this can one day be proved by measuring an increasing mass in the electron.

  12. I’m curious about the weight of the people, flora and fauna, being born and die. 7 billion people on the planet that will die has to add some weight, no? Does this affect the weight of the planet?

    • No, the lifeforms on this planet are composed of mass acquired from the planet, so we’re just moving mass from one form to another.

  13. Surely that number is a little more serious if you take into account the fact that the atmosphere and sea (and thus the inhabitable area of earth) are just a wafer thin blanket over a large ball of uninhabitable rock.
    what percentage of our atmosphere and water goes? the rock underneath isn’t breathable or drinkable.

  14. This article doesn’t make logical sense. The debris we’re accumulating is mostly rock, and I think it’s safe to say the overwhelming majority of that material never leaves. Also, we can clearly see that the continents have spread apart. The supercontinent theory with all the continents grouped in one corner of the planet and then spreading across it is like a child’s attempt to rationalize evidence that contradicts the prevailing theory. Any idiot can see that the planet was once much smaller and has expanded, causing the continents to separate.

    • I agree with your statement. I would definitely think once the rock gets here it stays here & adds its mass to the planet. Extrude that over millennia & sure we’ve added mass. A tremendous amount I would think. k water that

  15. Also the theory that icey comets have brought loads of water too. That’s not lost.

  16. Just wondering if the billions of barrels of fossil fuels taken out of the ground and burned will help reduce the weight of earth?

  17. I just have to say that the change in the planets mass is also due to the removal of oil that is dearly needed in the planet or else it would not be there. It was fine when we were only removing a smaller amount but 35 billion barrels a year really do the math people just sayin just sayin

  18. Madanagopal.V.C. | January 31, 2017 at 4:31 am | Reply

    Sir ! Sunlight cannot increase the mass of the earth since it only splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen already existing on earth already besides using carbon di oxide that was available in atmosphere. No material contribution from the sun on earth by its radiation. Thank You.

  19. Lillian Vallier | March 7, 2017 at 11:02 am | Reply

    But if we change the state of the renewable resources in earth, wouldn´t more grow back and that would create more mass

  20. Dave Ferguson | April 29, 2017 at 10:34 pm | Reply

    Interesting subject and comments. The law of physics that states we can neither create or destroy mass stops the idea we can have loss of mass via burning fossil fuels. We have simply changed the form, in this case to gas. We do acquire electrons and protons from the solar winds. Do we also gain helium and hydrogen from the sun? We do acquire space dust, meteors, and other space debris at the rate of 40,000 tons per year according to the article. If the article is correct we have a net lose or approx. 50,000 tons per year. If we are losing and the sun is losing shouldn’t the net effect be negligible. Or maybe chicken little was right, “The sky is falling!!”

  21. Hendrik Johannesen | June 17, 2017 at 10:53 am | Reply

    Is oil and coal in your calculus of the earth losing weight.

    People burn oil and coal to get electricity

    Earth Loses 50,000 Tonnes of Mass Every Year

    Sincerely. Hendrik Johannesen

  22. Francisco Camacho | June 23, 2017 at 10:26 am | Reply

    How could Earth lose mass since gravity holds everything in place? The way I see it, Earth would only lose mass if another heavenly body with with a stronger gravitational pull pulled mass away from it. Take Saturn’s satellite Titan for example, It’s atmosphere is much denser than Earth’s but it’s gravity is only 10% as strong.

  23. So explain it for us simple minded people. Our planet was created from our Sun, at first it was a ball of fire, like the Sun is. Over billions of years it has cooled down so we can live here. BUT it will keep cooling down and the fire inside our planet will go out. When that happens most of the water left will gravitate to the Earths core and freeze. The part of the planet we live in will dry up, and what water didn’t freeze will escape in outer space, because the gaseous bubble that we lived in will have burst. It will take some time and some people may profit from it, and live quality lives,while others may not.

  24. I have wondered about the increased volume of the land as a result of carbon fixation. Certainly we must accrue some carbon from meteorites. Accretion from plant growth and decomposition is apparent everywhere, as plants absorb gaseous carbon from the atmosphere and convert it to solid plant material. Top soil builds up and buries previous “surface” layers in our lawns and forests and everyplace covered in plants. Yes, much of that carbon should come from within the system, but if any is from external sources, there would be some offset to the loss of gaseous hydrogen and helium.

  25. So… Maybe I’m missing something, but does the Earth not increase in mass due to all of the plant growth. A seed falls to the ground and grows into a tree, that seed that weighed only a fraction of an ounce can weigh many tons by the end of its life cycle. Therefore over many years the Earth has to gain weight and mass. Right?

  26. If what I’ve read is correct, if we’ve removed 39 trillion gallons of oil from the earth, doesn’t that equate to a much higher mass of loss to the earth?

  27. The system of mass the is being measured is all mass within the earth gravity well that results in a terminal trajectory (Will eventually fall to earth). What that means is no matter what we do on our planet doesn’t really effect its mass unless we launch mass far away from it. We could burn every single drop of oil within the planet and it would not effect the amount of mass present. Plant growth also is using mass already within the system, its just changing how the mass is arranged. The loss and gains this article is talking about are what is coming into said system and what is leaving it.

  28. It’s a complex system but there’s something you are missing. When we burn anything from wood to fuel to kerosene that heat rises up and eventually is cooled by space. It’s not the gases that we lose it’s the fuel turned into heat. We are losing heat to space from every engine every air conditioner every house that is poorly insulated. The solution? We need ice and mass from other planets, we can’t get it from the moon, because that’s part of our total mass make up. Like a bola spinning in space if we take from the moon it is a zero mass gain. The energy expended to pull a chunk of asteroid into near earths orbital path would be minimal and depending on size it would have to be broken up before we let it add to the mass of the earth. Hopefully something made mostly of water. If we did this and it was large enough and done gradually we could effect the whole planet. The swings up and down in temperature are from a net change in where out water is. It’s in more people more pipes more water towers. Water vapor and water stabilizes weather makes more plants grow. If we add mass to the whole thing we can again increase population and desalinate the oceans and continue to grow for perhaps the next thousand years.

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