Vladimir Vernadsky

Vladimir Vernadsky

Vladimir Vernadsky on “Geochemistry, a New Science for the Twentieth Century”

We live in a critical epoch of the history of humanity.  I am not speaking of the political and social upheaval which takes place before our eyes and appears to be just the beginning.  Much more serious and profound events are unfolding in the domain of human thought.

The foundations of our conceptions on the universe, on nature—the unique entity—on everything, of which one heard so much in the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries, is transforming before our very eyes with an extraordinary speed rare in the history of thought.

We are studying a very small space—but inseparably linked to an immensity of the cosmos—in establishing laws and regularities in the history of the chemical elements of our planet.  Profound analogies—and even more than analogies—exist within.
Vladimir Vernadsky in his text _La Géochimie_ (“Geochemistry“) (1924). Cited by Paul R. Samson, David Pitt, in _The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader: Global environment, society, and change_, (Psychology Press, 1999), ISBN: 0415166446, ISBN: 9780415166447, p. 26.


Mercè Piqueras on Vladimir Vernadsky and biospheres

The concept of a biosphere comes from putting together data furnished by several disciplines such as biology, geology, chemistry and biochemistry, which link living matter and the matter of the upper layers of the planet. The term biosphere, which has been usually attributed to Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky (1863–1945), seems to have been coined by Eduard Suess (1831–1914). However, when Suess first used it, in his book Die Entstehung der Alpen (1875), he only intended to make a distinction between the lithospere—which is the upper layer of the Earth, made up by the Earth crust and the Earth upper mantle—, and the thin spherical film where living beings are found [1, 23]. For Suess, the biosphere comprised life and environmental conditions such as temperature, pressure, and chemical compounds. Vernadsky used for the first time the term biosphere in 1924, in his essay La Géochimie, which was based on a series of lectures he had given at La Sorbonne in 1922 and 1923. Philosopher and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), philosopher Henri Bergson (1859–1941), and mathematician and philosopher Eduard Le Roy (1870–1954) attended those lectures, and they and Vernadsky influenced to each other’s thoughts [1]. It is the concept of biosphere related to biogeochemistry, expressed in La Géochimie, that is widely accepted today. Vernadsky understood biosphere as the external envelope of the Earth which is inhabited by living things, and comprises both all the living organisms of the planet and the elements of inorganic nature providing the medium for their habitat. Thus, oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and other elements and chemical compounds involved in the vital process are constituent parts of the biosphere. As are the products of organisms activities, such as animal burrows and lairs, birds’ nests, deposits of lime and of fossil fuels. Even water is a component—a major component—of the biosphere [8]. Solar radiation, which is crucial for the maintenance of life on Earth, should be considered also a biosphere’s component, and so should products of human activities. In fact, the human species is a major changing force in the current composition of the biosphere.

The study of the biosphere cannot be made only by biologists. To study its components and their interactions, a multidisciplinary approach is needed. However, at Vernadsky’s times nobody even thought of interdisciplinarity. His theory was actually far ahead of the times when it arose. By portraying life as a global phenomenon, in which the sun’s energy was transformed on Earth into a kind of “green fire”—it referred to photosynthesis—he made an anticipation of global ecology; and he made also an anticipation of the concept of “ecosystem” [7, 29].
Mercè Piqueras [ @lectoracorrent ] in the Introduction to her paper “Meeting the Biospheres: on the translations of Vernadsky’s work” (PDF).  Published in International Microbiology: The official journal of the Spanish Society for Microbiology, Volume 1, ISSN: 11396709, (Barcelona, Spain: Springer, June 2, 1998), p. 165.