Space in which life resides (G.E. Hutchinson) That part of the Earth in which life exists.
Despite the important aspects described here, the concept of the biosphere appears to remain underdeveloped in much scientific thinking. While the term is commonly employed, the concept behind it remains confused, and the use of neologisms such as 'ecosphere' (Cole 1958) has not helped. Most surprisingly, perhaps, is the fact that, until recently, there has been little recognition or awareness of the deeper underlying issues raised by the notion of intricate interactions between living and non-living systems at the planetary level. This is surprising given the high profile of such events as the 1968 UNESCO 'Biosphere Conference' (UNESCO 1970), the 'The Biosphere' special issue of Scientific American (Hutchinson 1970) and the 1972 United Nations conference on the environment in Stockholm. Much of the evidence in the readings here suggests that the biosphere should be viewed as a fundamental concept for life on Earth, highlighting the way in which humans relate to the environment and the cosmos. The development of biogeochemistry acknowledges its roots in the work of Vernadsky on the biosphere (e.g. Degens 1989; Dobrovolsky 1994); and today, the study of 'biogeochemical cycles' has become an active branch of science, promoted by research by groups such as the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (Bolin and Cook 1983). The approach is aptly described as follows:
In general, biogeochemical cycles describe the pathways along which organic and inorganic substances move and interact in the various compartments of our Earth. Globally combined, they can be
looked upon as a complex and dynamic network of flows or matter and forces in the air-water-earthlife system. To assess their operation principle requires a constant crossing of disciplinary boundaries between physics, chemistry, and the environmental sciences. A holistic approach seems to be mandatory.