An Autonomous Agent

exploring the noosphere

Category: soil

Vladimir Vernadsky – The Biosphere

After reading books which made numerous references to the ideas of Vladimir Vernadsky, I decided to read his book, The Biosphere. It is an insightful and important book which provides numerous novel insights into the interconnected nature of the entire biosphere — the biogeochemical and thermodynamic relationships between living and non-living matter. The 1998 publication with Editor M.A.S McMenamin contains hundreds of great footnotes and further references. I also enjoyed the informative introduction by Jacques Grinevald.

Vernadsky’s “Pressure of Life” concept is new to me and struck me as important. It should, theoretically, be a measurable pressure. Just as we can measure Pascals or Newtons of pressure, the same should be the case for life’s pressure. There is only the issue of determining the system’s extent and defining the measurable quantity. For example, the entire biosphere must exert a given pressure against the Earth’s geochemical resources given a flux of cosmic solar energy. The biosphere “wants” and “tries” to multiply and thus expand against the finite constraint of resources available to the current state of biospheric evolution. Copying Vernadsky’s own analogy of a farmer clearing land, the freshly cleared land has been removed of the majority of its life above the soil. Thus there exists a pressure to fill this “vacuum” of life. How can we measure this pressure?

This brings to mind the related ideas of the logistic function and the oscillations which occur due to population expansion against finite resources. Life seems to typically overshoot the carrying capacity  due to rapid initial multiplication. Only to later collapse and once again overshoot in a series of oscillations. Once the cleared land has been mostly filled, this pressure changes and occurs both inter- and intra- species. See this article:  A Megatheory of Human Destiny.

Soil Manufacturing

An overlooked resource of immense importance, soil provides the foundation upon which agriculture can exist. However, there have been many studies produced in the past decades which warn of the depletion of this resource. Although it is renewable, the rate at which soil replenishes itself is around one to two inches per hundred years since the weathering of rock takes forever. Sources indicate that humans are eroding the topsoil ten times faster than it can be renewed. What does this mean? Either humanity consumes all available soil or it finds a way to fix the problem. One fix could be the commercial production of soil or a soil aggregate which allows soil to regenerate at a speed to keep up with human activities.

Thus, an industry poised on the verge of enormous growth is soil manufacturing. The production and maintenance of healthy top soil, filled with necessary micro-organisms and chemicals, will be of paramount importance as our natural supply beings to dwindle.  Perhaps in the future, this soil will be sold in enormous quantities on Earth and space colonies. There are already several companies producing relatively small amounts of soil for urban projects and gardening. But, considering the scale of human agriculture, these companies are lacking. One example is Midwest Trading (video of the facility and soil manufacture).

For more information on soil and its importance to agriculture consider the following books and links:

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David Montgomery

David Montgomery talking about his book (YouTube) Also on Vimeo

Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan

The Control of Nature by John McPhee

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