Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky and his Revolutionary Theory of the Biosphere and the Noosphere

Irina Trubetskova

Department of Natural Resources

University of New Hampshire, irina@cisunix.unh.edu

Living matter gives the biosphere an extraordinary character, unique in the universe... Cosmic energy determines the pressure of life that can be regarded as the transmission of solar energy to the Earth's surface... Activated by radiation, the matter of the biosphere collects and redistributes solar energy, and converts it ultimately into free energy capable of doing work on Earth...

A new character is imparted to the planet by this powerful cosmic force. The radiations that pour upon the Earth cause the biosphere to take on properties unknown to lifeless planetary surfaces, and thus transform the face of the Earth... In its life, its death, and its decomposition an organism circulates its atoms through the biosphere over and over again.

Vladimir Vernadsky, Biosfera, 1926

It is essentially Vernadsky's concept of the biosphere... that we accept today.

Evelyn Hutchinson, The Biosphere, 1970

I look forward with great optimism. I think that we undergo not only a historical, but a planetary change as well. We live in a transition to the noosphere.  

Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere and the Noosphere, 1945

Much time will have to pass before the historian of science will be able to review the vast scientific legacy of Vernadsky and fully grasp the depth and many-sidedness of his influence.

Alexander Vinogradov, Development of V.I. Vernadsky's Ideas, 1963

     The originator of the modern theory of the Biosphere (Grinevald, 1998, p. 21)... One of the greatest thinkers of history and philosophy of science (Levit, 2001, p. 9)... A world-class scientist and writer (Margulis et al., 1998, p. 18)... What Charles Darwin did for all life through time, Vernadsky did for all life through space (Ibid.)... The Vernadskian renaissance... The international revival of Vernadsky... Vernadsky's scientific revolution (Grinevald, 1998, p. 21, 27)... Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky (1863-1945) was the scientist who elaborated the concept of the biosphere and who is now generally acknowledged as the originator of a new paradigm of life studies (Smil, 2002, p. 2), a principal architect of our contemporary ecological vision of the biosphere (Engel, 1990, p. 6)...

     ... After years of silence, the West finally started to discover and scientifically recognize a prominent Russian researcher, organizer of science, educator, public figure, person of encyclopedic knowledge, philosopher, and thinker - Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky, a genius that belongs to all of humanity. Paradoxically, Vernadsky's ideas for more than half of a century insensibly and organically penetrated many fields and branches of modern science. They have been used widely, without attaching his name though. His ideas even predetermined the appearance and influenced the development of such important disciplines as Biogeochemistry, Global Ecology, and Earth System Science. According to Evelyn Hutchinson (1903-1991), "the twentieth century's most eminent limnologist [i.e. freshwater ecologist] and the founder of the Yale school of ecology, whose influence is still felt in disciplines ranging from systems ecology to biogeochemistry" (Smil, 2002), "it is essentially Vernadsky's concept of biosphere... that we accept today" (Hutchinson, 1970). Alexander Vinogradov (one of Vernadsky's numerous students and closest collaborators) wisely noticed, "Much time will have to pass before the historian of science will be able to review the vast scientific legacy of Vernadsky and fully grasp the depth and many-sidedness of his influence" (Vinogradov, 1963, p.627).

     "Just as all educated westerners have heard of Albert Einstein, Gregor Mendel, and Charles Darwin, so all educated Russians know of Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky (1863-1945). He is widely celebrated in Russia and the Ukraine. A Vernadsky Avenue in Moscow is rivaled by a monument in his memory in Kiev. His portrait appears on Russian national stamps, air letters, and even memorial coins" (Margulis et al., 1998, p. 14). 

Vernadsky symbolizes personal integrity and Slavic native ability. In the years to come, as the Russian and Ukrainian people look for sources of cultural pride, Vernadsky's stature is certain to grow. Already named in his honor are a mineral (vernadite), a geologic museum, the Ukrainian central science library, several mountain peaks and ranges, a peninsula in East Antarctica, a submarine volcano, a crater on the back side of the moon, a mine in Siberia, a scientific research vessel, a steamship, a village in Ukraine (Vernadovka), a street in Moscow (Vernadsky Prospekt), and a species of diatoms (Rowland, 1993, quoted in Margulis et al., 1998, p. 14).

 

    This list could be continued with such additions named in his honor as a Moscow Metro station, an avenue in Kiev, a railroad station in central Russia, peaks in Siberia and on the Kurile Islands, an Institute of  Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry of Russian Academy of Sciences, a Biosphere museum (Russian Academy of Sciences, St.-Petersburg), All-Russia Teenage Readings (The Youth Research Papers' Competition for high school students in Russia), two awards (from the Russian and the Ukrainian Academies of Sciences) for outstanding achievements in Mineralogy, Geochemistry, and Cosmochemistry, the Nongovernmental Vernadsky Ecological Foundation, Vernadsky Scholarship Alumni Association (VSAA), an honorable Award Medal "For Contribution to Sustainable Development", the Russian Academy of Sciences' Committee on the study of the scientific heritage of academician V.I. Vernadsky.

     Why is such a great tribute and unprecedented attention given to just one person, even though he is an extraordinary talented scientist? Is his popularity the result of his extreme productiveness and immense contribution to modern science in general? Indeed, the following list of his scientific interests and achievements may give an idea about his breadth, depth, and effectiveness as a researcher and scientist:

Of  Vernadsky's 416 works that were published during his life time, 100 were devoted to mineralogy, 70 - biochemistry, 50 - geochemistry, 43 - history of science, 37 - organization of science, 29 - crystallography, 21 - radiogeology, 14 - soil science, and the rest - to different questions of science, history, etc. (Pyatibratova, 2000).

     His research ranged from meteorites and cosmic dust to microbiology and migration of microelements via living organisms in ecosystems. Numerous volumes of his writings and materials were published after his death, and this work is still going on.      Vernadsky "made an enormous contribution to crystallography, genetic mineralogy, and geochemistry. He created radiogeology, cosmochemistry and biogeochemistry, and wrote excellent works on the history of scientific thought" (Yanshin, 1989).

     However, the main reason for the appreciation of his work is our urgent "necessity of a complex holistic conceptual approach" to the problems of increasingly and rapidly deteriorating environment and impending global ecological crisis (Yanshin, 1993). Today, the word biosphere is a common word in our language; it is widely used by mass media and by ordinary people. How many people, though, associate this term with Vladimir Vernadsky? What does it really mean? Where did it originally come from?

   The term biosphere was coined in 1875 by the famous Austrian geologist Eduard Suess (1831-1914).  "In fact, Suess literally tossed the new term away, just once and without an explicit definition, in his pioneering book on the genesis of the Alps (Suess 1875)" (Smil, 2002). In his interpretation, the "biosphere" is an envelope of life, which "is limited to a determined zone at the surface of the lithosphere". The term was never given a definition or elaborated upon until Vladimir Vernadsky. 

     Vernadsky developed a complete theory about the biosphere of the planet Earth in two monographs and several dozens of papers. He specified boundaries (limits) of the biosphere, explicitly defined the difference, i.e. qualities, of living and non-living matter, determined the total mass of living matter, calculated the amount of cosmic energy that is absorbed by the biosphere through trapping of solar energy by chlorophyll of green algae, developed a mathematical method for determining the pressure of different types of living matter, determined cycles of chemical elements passing through living organisms of the biosphere, etc.  In his words (Vernadsky, 1944):

... a definite geological envelope markedly distinguished from all other geological envelopes of our planet. This is only because it is inhabited by living matter, which reveals itself as a geological force of immense proportions, completely remaking the biosphere and changing its physical, chemical, and mechanical properties, but also because the biosphere is the only envelope of the planet into which energy permeates in a notable way, changing it even more than does living matter.

      

     Under Vernadsky's definition, the Biosphere is the single greatest geological force on Earth, moving, processing, and recycling several billion tons of mass a year.

     Vernadsky's The Biosphere and the Nošsphere published in American Scientist in 1945, was the first publication about his revolutionary theory of the Biosphere and Noosphere in English. The paper was written in 1943 and reflects the summary of V.Vernadsky's concept of the Biosphere and Noosphere as a planetary and cosmic phenomenon that he has been working on during the first quarter of the 20th century. His concept of the Biosphere and the Noosphere was expounded earlier in multiple and detailed publications in Russian (the book Biosfera, 1926 and others), French (La Biosphre, 1929), and German (Biosphþre, 1930), and also during his research, lecturing, and discussions in Western Europe (1922-1924). However, Western scientists did not have the opportunity to read Vernadsky's Biosphere in English until 1986 (reduced English translation, though), i.e. 60 years after the first publication in Russian, or 57 and 56 years later than in French and German. Finally, the first full English translation of The Biosphere saw the light in 1998.

In the biosphere thesis, the Earth represents itself as a small particle in a gigantic Universe, a minute oasis where under some laws the conditions for life emerged, life which the Earth protects from penetration by the Sun's ultra-violet rays. (Arbatov and Bolshakov, 1987).

     The most amazing point about Vernadsky is his approach to the Biosphere as a planetary and cosmic event - a new way of looking at the Earth - as if he observed the Earth from space, although the first satellite, Sputnik (USSR), was launched only half a century later, in 1957, and the first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, became the first human in the history of mankind to see the beautiful planet Earth from orbit on April 12, 1961. It is not surprising for us to see images of our planet taken from space, but for Vernadsky it was impossible:

 

The famous photos of Earth that we received as a Christmas present from NASA some twenty five years ago have affected our vision of Earth and humanity's place in the cosmos profoundly. To understand just how much of an effect they have had, go to your attic or to the public library. Dig out a magazine or newspaper from 1969. Go through it carefully and count the occurrences of the words global and planetary. You will probably not find them at all. Yet in 1994 most of us have internalized these photographs and are beginning to understand ourselves as global or planetary citizens on a small planet in the midst of an immense cosmos (Gonzalez, 1995)

     I wonder what grand and dynamic pictures Vernadsky saw in his mind, as early as at the beginning of the 20th century, when he came to the understanding that the biosphere, in fact, is a great geological and cosmic force, changing the face of the unique, living planet Earth through space and time.

     Vernadsky defined the future evolutionary state of the biosphere as the Noosphere, the sphere of reason. The term "Noosphere" was first coined by the French mathematician and philosopher, Edouard Le Roy (1927). "Le Roy, building on Vernadsky's ideas and on discussions with Teilhard de Chardin [they both attended Vernadsky's lectures on biogeochemistry at the Sorbonne in 1922-1923], came up with the term "noosphere", which he introduced in his lectures at the College de France in 1927 (Le Roy, 1927)... Vernadsky saw the concept as a natural extension of his own ideas predating Le Roy's choice of the term" (Smil, 2002, p. 13). Le Roy understood the noosphere as a shell of the Earth or a "thinking stratum", including various components, such as industry, language, and other forms of rational human activity (Arbatov and Bolshakov, 1987). Le Roy's concept was developed by De Chardin, who considered the noosphere as something external to the biosphere - a progression from biological to psychological and spiritual evolution. Teilhard based his conception based on philosophical writings, and was completely ignorant of Vernadsky's biogeochemical approach. Vernadsky developed his concept of the noosphere out of his theory of the biosphere, combining his biogeochemical works with his own work in philosophy of science (Grinevald, 1998, p. 24-25):

Both Vernadsky and Teilhard were cosmic prophets of globalization. If Teilhard was a "cosmic mystic", Vernadsky defined himself as a "cosmic realist"... They shared a belief in science and technology as a universal, peaceful and civilizing force... But in The Biosphere and in all his work, Vernadsky's scientific perspective is radically different from that of Teilhard. The divergence is perhaps best expressed as an opposition between the anthropocentric view of life (Teilhardian biosphere) and the biocentric view of the nature's economy (Vernadskian Biosphere)...

     According to Vernadsky, the biosphere became a real geological force that is changing the face of the earth, and the biosphere is changing into the noosphere. In Vernadsky's interpretation (1945), the noosphere, is a new evolutionary stage of the biosphere, when human reason will provide further sustainable development both of humanity and the global environment:

In our century the biosphere has acquired an entirely new meaning; it is being revealed as a planetary phenomenon of cosmic character... In the twentieth century, man, for the first time in the history of earth, knew and embraced the whole biosphere, completed the geographic map of the planet earth, and colonized its whole surface. Mankind became a single totality in the life on earth... The noosphere is the last of many stages in the evolution of the biosphere in geological history.

     Vernadsky made an important contribution to science in general, and in ecology in particular.  It is essentially Vernadsky's theory of the biosphere, expounded in his work "Biosfera" (1926) that is embodied in the global approach to ecological problems today. To solve global ecological problems that may endanger even the very existence of humanity in t5he future, a cultivation of a new worldview among people, and especially young generations, is absolutely needed. I.P.Volkov (1997) puts it this way:

The methodological rule of the global approach is to rise above the everyday occurrence, run up above the Earth, to become that astronaut who's observed the Earth from the Moon, for example, as the American astronauts have done it seven times, or to become a spaceman watching (and studying) the planet phenomena from the orbit near our Earth.

Though none of the globalists has visited outer space yet, nevertheless, each of them is able to do it with the help of psyche in his imagination, in his thoughts, in his imaginary view of the planet from space. That is the noospheric outlook on the phenomena of the Earth.

     The best way to be acquainted with Vernadky's doctrine of the Biosphere and Noosphere is to read his original writings as some of them are fortunately available in English now (see the reference list). It seems that it would be interesting to touch upon another, human side of this incredible personality, especially in the light of the fact that the vast literature about his life (including more than ten books in Russian) is not available in English.

     According to the German philosopher and educator, Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), "the kind of philosophy a person chooses depends on the kind of person one is.  A philosophical system is not a lifeless piece of furniture that can be accepted or discarded, according to how we feel.  Rather, a philosophy is given its soul by the soul of the person who possesses it" (translation and personal communication by Lenore Bronson). These words are totally true for Vladimir Vernadsky, both as a professional and a personality.

     In addition to the importance of Vernadsky's ideas for forming a new, scientific and holistic worldview as well as approaches for solving global problems the humanity is facing today, his character was another important component that gave a rise to such incredible appreciation from the side of his nationals.

     Under the Soviet regime, where Vernadsky lived the last 28 years of his 81-year life, communist ideology was an official philosophy and religion. It was almost impossible to succeed in any sphere of life without becoming a member of the Communist Party in the USSR. Vernadsky did. His example is unprecedented. Vernadsky was one of the few high-level scientists that consciously decided to stay in the country to save academic traditions and science. His patriotism was, in fact, conscious and free-will civic duty. He did not leave his native land when dark times of communism arose after the October socialist revolution of 1917, like the two millions of the most educated, intelligent, and cultured people of Russia did. Many of others, who decided to stay, were either killed, died of hunger during the Red terror and Civil War, or were physically annihilated later in Stalin's prisons or labor camps. Russian aristocrat by birth, Vernadsky consciously made his choice between emigrating abroad, which would mean to continue his science under favorable conditions (British Association of Science arranged that one of the Red Cross ships was waiting for him near the Crimean coast in 1920), and staying in the country. He stayed with a noble purpose, although he knew that he would have to face a hard life (Aksenov, 1993, p. 132). He received another tempting offer in 1924, when he was staying in Paris for research and read a lecture course on Geochemistry (as one of the founders and developers of this young discipline at that time) at the invitation of the Rector of the Sorbonne (University of Paris). Vernadsky was offered a permanent faculty position at the Sorbonne. He had to make a choice again - to return to Russia that survived really hard times, or to stay in the West. Take into account that Stalin already started to gain power in Russia, and both of Vernadsky's children had emigrated. He chose to return. Every devoted scientist, and generally a creative person, can sincerely understand the hardship of Vernadsky's sacrifice, when he refused the tempting job offers abroad that would have provided him with an outstanding research environment and peaceful civil life.

     All of this emphasizes the high level of Vernadsky's civil responsibility and courage. Unbelievable, but without bowing to political authorities, making foul compromises, or losing his human dignity, he miraculously succeeded to survive all turmoil and hardships of Russian history that happened during his life, which began under czarism and ended under the horrors of Stalinism. Moreover, he managed not to interrupt his creative scientific work and teaching for even one single day (thinking and developing his ideas when there was no opportunity for performing research, writing or lecturing). Against a background of dramatic historical events that impacted his everyday life (three revolutions at the beginning of the 20th century, civil war, two bloody world wars, and a deadly cult of personality), he was busy organizing research laboratories and institutes, education and libraries, founding the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, establishing new branches of science, and popularizing his revolutionary scientific view by giving speeches to the public. It is necessary to admit that although Vernadsky was already an internationally recognized scientist since the end of the 19th century, he was not very well known in his own country during the communist era. "Following Nikita Kruschev's secret speech of February 24-25, 1956, denouncing Josef Stalin's brutal rule, Soviet intellectuals began to rediscover and rehabilitate the reputation of Russian scholars and scientists who had been neglected or disparaged during the Stalinist era for political reasons. Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky... was one of the Russian thinkers whose work was promoted and popularized during the 1960s and 1970s" (Kauffman, 1991). Today Vernadsky is widely recognized and respected in Russia, as it is shown above.

     All of Vernadsky's life was an act of the highest civic courage and responsibility not only in relation to Russia and Russian people (as he contributed all his talent, power, and capabilities for the continuity and succession of Russian pre-revolutionary academic science and traditions), but as history has shown, his life was in fact a continuous service for the name of science and progress of knowledge in general, i.e. internationally, on the global scale - because science and knowledge are a phenomenon peculiar to the whole humanity.  For there cannot be a national science - science is always international.

     Nowadays, Vladimir Vernadsky is often compared to Albert Einstein: "His name is as inseparably linked with the biosphere as Albert Einstein's name is with relativity" (Kauffmann, 1991). It is remarkable that two giants of scientific thought of the 20th century, Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945) and Albert Einstein (1879-1955), lived on Earth simultaneously. Unbelievable, but it actually happened that Vernadsky and Einstein once met. It was in 1927, when Vernadsky stayed in Germany for his research at the same time when there was a week of Russian science in Berlin, in which he participated. Einstein directed a group of German scientists for this event. According to Aksenov (1993, p.161), there is an old photograph from this scientific event, with both of them among the other members of the Russian and German delegations. I wonder - did they have a chance to talk?

     Both Vernadsky and Einstein, two stars of the first magnitude of the 20th century civilization, were very concerned about responsibility of those who possess knowledge. Vernadsky warned (1945, p. 8):
 

The whole of mankind put together represents an insignificant mass of the planet's matter. Its strength is derived not from its matter, but from its brain. If man understands this, and does not use his brain and his work for self-destruction, an immense future is open before him in the geological history of biosphere.

 
     Einstein outlived Vernadsky only by 10 years, but this decade brought much more evidence of the planet's deteriorating environment. "Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal", Einstein noted once. Did he mean Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or emerging global ecological problems? Does this not agree with Vernadsky's words? Although half a century passed since then, and we have enough evidence for the progressively deteriorating global environment, humanity still does not take the problem seriously enough. As Laurens van der Post argues (1986): "We have already got power enough to destroy the whole of human life; but we have not yet got the moral obligation, the sense of good and bad, to match it and follow it as our instrument of metamorphosis. We have not yet accepted that every act of knowledge, every increase of knowledge, increases our responsibility towards creation".

     In connection with our recent seminar debate on science and religion, it is interesting to consider Vernadsky's and Einstein's opinions on the matter as they look to be very similar. It is well known that both of them were great humanitarians, although neither associated themselves with any particular religion. Nevertheless, both Vernadsky and Einstein admitted repeatedly and independently their deep religiosity, without following any particular religion, practicing rituals, and attending church though. It is amazing that they even expressed their attitude in the same words. Einstein: "I am a deeply religious nonbeliever" (Einstein, 1954). Vernadsky: "I consider myself a deeply religious man, but meanwhile I do not need either church or prayer. I do not need words and images... So called religious feeling... is a sum of moral aspirations that could take various forms" (Mochalov, 1988). "The essence of Vernadsky's religiosity is... emotional experience of unity with living nature, with Cosmos in general, with living nature in particular, sense of cosmic nature of life and mind, and harmony of the universe, i.e. what Einstein once called a 'cosmic religious feeling'" (Mochalov, 1988):

V. I. Vernadsky considered religion as one of the forms of reality's reflection alongside with science, philosophy and arts. But he had not belonged to any particular religious trend and he had not been a religious believer. His 'religiosity' was conventional, it was connected with deep emotional involvement in creative process, with feeling of his unity with universe, with living matter.

     Einstein expressed a similar opinion. "My feeling", he wrote, "is religious insofar as I am imbued with tile consciousness of the insufficiency of the human mind to understand more deeply the harmony of the Universe which we try to formulate as 'laws of nature'" (Einstein, 1952).

     What they both understood under religiosity was, in fact, expression of their personal integrity (the quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles, Encarta Reference Library, 2003) and spirituality (awe for creation and appreciation of beauty, reverence of life and love for nature, sense of belonging to and unity with the universe, search for harmony, wisdom, and truth), intensified by their extraordinary creative imagination and intuition. As a matter of fact, they did not need a religious, i.e. spiritual leader because genuine spirituality is far beyond any particular existing religion.

     Both Vernadsky and Einstein were internationalists, fighters for justice, and peace. As prominent scientists and thinkers, they felt they were responsible for purposeful usage of scientific and technological progress for the well being of humanity as a whole. Therefore, no wonder, if they would be alive today, to find them in the first rows of sound advocates and propagandists for a new, ecological worldview and sustainable development. There would not be a surprise to see Vernadsky in this role as his concept of the Biosphere and Noosphere is embodied already practically (consciously or unconsciously) within all major eco-ethical approaches of environmental movements. The following words of Einstein also suggest that he would be among active environmentalists these days: "A human being is a part of a whole, called by us 'universe', a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty". 
     People need to change their worldview and attitude toward their fellow brothers and the rest of creation from anthropocentric and limited to ecocentric and holistic; otherwise, impending global ecological catastrophe is inevitable. Humans are proud of their possession of reason - for which they call themselves a pinnacle of evolution. However, if an outside observer would watch our planet for some time, s/he would not see us as creatures of reason. Indeed, human beings destroy their own environment and themselves by behaving like a cancer tumor in the organism. Are we a pinnacle of evolution then?  

     Vernadsky believed in human reason. His positive character and personality could explain his optimism and his belief in positive reasoning and good will of other human beings at the planetary, cosmic level: "I look forward with great optimism. I think that we undergo not only a historical, but a planetary change as well. We live in a transition to the noosphere" (Vernadsky, 1945). However, Vernadsky was not just an idealistic dreamer. His scientific theory of the Biosphere and Noosphere was built on a vast empirical basis and solid laws of nature. Skeptics, who do not believe in the positive future of humanity and in the "higher" nature of human beings, could be referred to the most recent history of humanity. Of course, because of our short lifespan, we could not see the changes that are already on the way. But progress or at least a positive shift is obvious in such dimensions as the process of disarmament, the struggle for peace, the prevention of nuclear war, the formation of the European Union, international space projects, international environmental agreements, ecological movements, etc. Slowly, as slow that it could not be seen yet, positive changes are developing. However, more and more efforts are needed to reach people's consciousness to involve them in these processes. 

     The need for popularization of Vernadsky's concept of the Noosphere towards the formation of a new, global and holistic world view among people, and especially younger generations, is hardly disputable. This could and should be a powerful tool to resist such fundamental contemporary phenomena as individualism and consumerism, growthism and economism, to which our society is addicted. All components of human nature such as our mind (through appropriate information and knowledge), heart (through feelings and emotions), and spirit (through highest human aspirations and morals) are supposed to be reached and moved in this process, thereby providing motivation to live and act properly. Family, school, and religious communities are called to play principal roles in cultivating a new world view and attitude toward our common home, the planet Earth. The organized effort for overall ecological literacy on national and international levels is needed for the implementation of a new world-view of the Earth, humanity, and our existence in the Universe. Ecological literacy must become a mandatory part of education in elementary, middle, high school; a requirement in institutions of higher education (colleges and universities, technical - schools, community colleges, junior colleges); and should involve mass media (especially television, magazines, and internet) as a part of  national and international programs.

     Alexander Fersman, the closest pupil of Vladimir Vernadsky and his successor in the area of the development of geochemistry, who only outlived his teacher by several months, had time to write about Vernadsky: "His general ideas will be studied and elaborated during centuries and one will discover new pages in his works which will serve as the source for new searches. Many scientists will learn his creative thought which is acute, stubborn and articulated, always genial, but sometimes poorly understood. As for young generations, he always will be a teacher in science and a striking example of a fruitfully lived life".

     ... There are extraordinary people, who continue to affect the path of humanity, its cultural, scientific, and moral evolution profoundly, even though they have passed away. These names are on everybody's lips, and they are referred to as if they are our contemporaries because of their unique capacity to be ahead of their own time. They continue to send their light of knowledge, inspiration, and hope like the bright stars in the night sky, which in fact went out millions or billions years ago. The thinkers, of this kind, serve as the leading lights for the progress of humanity. Among these exclusive personalities there are, for example, Pluto and Aristotle from ancient times, Leonardo da Vinci and Giordano Bruno from the Renaissance, Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton and Michail Vasilyevich Lomonosov, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi from the most recent history of humanity. Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky, the founder of the concept of the Biosphere and Noosphere (the most progressive contemporary scientific and philosophical worldview), is certainly one of these exceptional thinkers that leave indelible marks in human history and will affect future evolution of humanity for a long time.

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Glossary

Atmosphere - The air envelope surrounding the Earth. Earth's atmosphere is the layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth retained by the Earth's gravity (Wikipedia Encyclopedia, 2004).

Biosphere - The totality of living organisms with their environment, i.e. those layers of the Earth and the Earth's atmosphere in which living organisms are located (VanDeVeer and Pierce, 2003). Vernadsky defined ecology (originally intended as the "economy of nature") as the science of the biosphere.

Ecology - The branch of science that studies the distribution and abundance of living organisms, their habitats, and the interactions between them and their environment - which includes both biotic (non-living) elements like climate and geology, and biotic ones like other species (Wikipedia Encyclopedia, 2004).

Hydrosphere - The water envelope surrounding the Earth. Hydrosphere describes collective mass of water that is found under, on and over the surface of the Earth (Wikipedia Encyclopedia, 2004).

Lithosphere - The outer solid shell of the Earth (Wikipedia Encyclopedia, 2004), i.e. the outer layers of the earth made up of the crust and the outer portion of the mantle (the layer between the core and the crust) (VanDeVeer and Pierce, 2003).

Noosphere - Literally, "the envelope of mind" (Smil, 2002, p. 12) or the "sphere of human thought" (Wikipedia Encyclopedia, 2004). "The Noosphere is the last of many stages in the evolution of the biosphere in geological history" (Vernadsky, 1945, p. 10).

"Looking far ahead, Vernadsky considered the emergence of the noosphere as a critical evolutionary step needed for preserving and reconstructing the biosphere in the interest of humanity as a single entity... We have already altered the biosphere to such an extent that the only rational way out is to understand as good as possible its intricate functions - and then to make sure that the future changes we inflict on the global environment will remain within tolerable limits. Obviously, the collective role of human consciousness will be essential if this unprecedented process of planetary management is to succeed... Moral choices will be essential. Limiting and eventually reducing the human impact on the biosphere would require an unprecedented degree of international, indeed global, cooperation and, inevitably, collective willingness to forgo certain kinds of consumption (Smil, 2002, p. 25, 265, 266).

Sustainability - An economic, social, and ecological concept. It is intended to be a means of configuring civilization and human activity so that society and its members are able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, and planning and acting for the ability to maintain these ideals indefinitely. Sustainability affects every level of organization, from the local neighborhood to the entire globe (Wikipedia Encyclopedia, 2004).