Self-organization of the Earth's biosphere-geochemical or geophysiological?

David W. Schwartzman, Steven N. Shore, Tyler Volk, Mark McMenamin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We explore the implications of indicating the biosphere's self-organization by the trend over time of the net entropic flow from the Earth's surface, the actual physical boundary of virtually all biotic mass. This flow, derived from the radiative surface entropy budget, is approximately inversely related to the surface temperature when the solar incident flux remains constant. In the geophysiological ('gaian') interpretation, biospheric self-organization has increased with the progressive colonization of the continents and evolutionary developments in the land biota, as a result of surface cooling arising from biotic enhancement of weathering. The key site for this self-organization is at the interface between land and atmosphere, the soil, where carbon is sequestered by its reaction (as carbonic and organic acids) with calcium magnesium silicates. Along with disequilibrium (steady-state) levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the occurrence of differentiated soil is the critical material evidence for biospheric self-organization, whether it be geophysiological or geochemical (ie., purely result of inorganic reactions). The computed equilibrium levels of carbon dioxide and corresponding equilibrium temperatures in the past are dramatically different from the steady-state levels. With future solar luminosity increase, the biospheric capacity for climatic regulation will decrease, leading to the ending of self-organization some two billion years from now. The Earth's surface will then approach chemical equilibrium with respect to the carbonate-silicate cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)435-450
Number of pages16
JournalOrigins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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