Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of Earth

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Gaia, the largest entity in the nested systems of life on Earth, is surely not an organism, but it nevertheless shows a kind of physiology with fascinating internal dynamics. But this statement implies physiologic functions, chemical cycles, perhaps even feedback loops that have some role in homeostasis. What are these functions, how do we know they exist, and how do we learn about them?
This is the subject that Tyler Volk tackles brilliantly in Gaia's Body. A seamless, engagingly readable introduction to the budding new field of Earth physiology, Gaia's Body blends real science with evocative imagery in describing the system of life, soils and air we have termed the biosphere. Volk shows how every important chemical in the atmosphere is regulated by living processes; why strange, spaghetti-like bacteria off the coast of Peru have an intimate connection with the plants in your backyard; why "biochemical guilds" may be Earth's most important unit of life; and even how scientists have detected the "breathing" of the biosphere. He examines long-term trends in Earth's evolution (is Gaia growing colder? more complex?) and examines humanity's role in Gaia's past and future.
This groundbreaking work is sure to intrigue adherents and skeptics alike, as well as anyone who is curious about our living planet.

Tyler Volk is Associate Professor of Earth System Sciences at New York University and the author of Metapatterns: Across Space, Time, and Mind. He lives in New York and New Mexico.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Full of fresh and stimulating perspectives on Earth System science for any student or teacher in that field." Bill Chaloner Biologist

" Gaia"s Body is an outstanding contribution to global brings the Gaia concept to the heart of science." Peter Westbroek Nature

"Volk writes splendidly and passionately, but avoids the trap of letting his command of language stand in for scientific clarity." Fred Pearce New Scientist

"Volk... weaves a tapestry of solar radiation, plate tectonics, and atmospheric chemistry, all bound by engaging prose..." Joel D. Gunn Quarterly Review of Biology

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780756761776
  • Publisher: DIANE Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 11/1/1998
  • Pages: 269

Meet the Author

Tyler Volk is Science Director of Environmental Studies and Professor of Biology at New YorkUniversity. He is the author of Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of the Earth (MIT Press, 2003), Metapatterns: Across Space, Time, and Mind, and other books.

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Table of Contents

Preface: Fantastic Voyagers

1. Breathing of the Biosphere
2. A Global Holarchy
3. Outer Light, Inner Fire
4. The Parts of Gaia
5. Worldwide Metabolisms
6. Embodied Energy
7. The Music of This Sphere
8, Gaia in Time

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2000

    If you read one book on the Gaia hypothesis, this should be it.

    Tyler Volk created a thoughtful and well written book that clearly defines the biogeochemical mechanisms that govern the biosphere. Reading this book is like reading a gripping who-dunit ¿ you don¿t want to put it down. The 'Gaia in Time' chapter captivated me with its analogy of viewing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels as an integral of a complex web of biogeochemical cycles. How this proxy was shifted by cryptogamic microbial crusts, photosynthetic organisms, nitrogen fixers, non-photosynthetic sulfide oxidizers, land plants, and calcareous plankton fascinated me. If you read one book on the Gaia hypothesis, this should be it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2000

    The Unity of Life

    Volk takes an appealingly folksy and romantic concept and turns it into the stuff that even scientists can't scoff at. Seeing the interdependence of all living organisms in a system helps drive home the point that no human act is without repercussions. Volk's prose is vivid enough to please an English major, and substantive enough to subdue biogeochemists and their ilk the world over. Read Gaia's Body and see how molecular mechanisms can make meaning and metaphor for both poets and scientists.

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