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The Earth's Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics, and Change

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In this text, Vaclav Smil tells the story of the Earth's biosphere from its origins to its near- and long-term future. He explains the workings of its parts and what is known about their interactions. With essay-like flair, he examines the biosphere's physics, chemistry, biology, geology, oceanography, energy, climatology, and ecology, as well as the changes caused by huma In this text, Vaclav Smil tells the story of the Earth's biosphere from its origins to its near- and long-term future. He explains the workings of its parts and what is known about their interactions. With essay-like flair, he examines the biosphere's physics, chemistry, biology, geology, oceanography, energy, climatology, and ecology, as well as the changes caused by human activity. He provides both the basics of the story and surprising asides illustrating critical but often neglected aspects of biospheric complexity.


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In this text, Vaclav Smil tells the story of the Earth's biosphere from its origins to its near- and long-term future. He explains the workings of its parts and what is known about their interactions. With essay-like flair, he examines the biosphere's physics, chemistry, biology, geology, oceanography, energy, climatology, and ecology, as well as the changes caused by huma In this text, Vaclav Smil tells the story of the Earth's biosphere from its origins to its near- and long-term future. He explains the workings of its parts and what is known about their interactions. With essay-like flair, he examines the biosphere's physics, chemistry, biology, geology, oceanography, energy, climatology, and ecology, as well as the changes caused by human activity. He provides both the basics of the story and surprising asides illustrating critical but often neglected aspects of biospheric complexity.

30 review for The Earth's Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics, and Change

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ushan

    This is a survey of biology (from cell biology to biome-scale ecology) and geography as pertaining to the earth's biosphere - where life on earth came from (as far as it can be known), how it will end, where it has spread, how life affects the natural cycles of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur and other elements, what are the scaling laws for animals and plants, what is the total biomass of wild mammals, domesticated bovids and humans, and so on. So far as a nonbiologist can understand it, this This is a survey of biology (from cell biology to biome-scale ecology) and geography as pertaining to the earth's biosphere - where life on earth came from (as far as it can be known), how it will end, where it has spread, how life affects the natural cycles of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur and other elements, what are the scaling laws for animals and plants, what is the total biomass of wild mammals, domesticated bovids and humans, and so on. So far as a nonbiologist can understand it, this is very interesting stuff. The last chapter is about the human influence on the biosphere - human-introduced invasive species (99% of the biomass of the San Francisco Bay), air and water pollution, deforestation and global warming via anthropogenic emission of fossil carbon. I didn't know that the answer to a great many questions about global warming is, "We have no idea", since there are dozens of feedback cycles, both positive and negative, around the increased concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide and its consequences. Will plants photosynthesize more because of greater concentration of carbon dioxide? Some will, some won't. Will the warmer oceans cause the methane hydrates on the ocean floor to melt, releasing large quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere? Fortunately, we cannot destroy the biosphere; unfortunately, it is within our capabilities to alter it in such a way as to make the earth unlivable for billions of humans. Smil's Energies is one of the best popular science books I have ever read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chuck Kollars

    As with all of Vaclav Smil's books, very full of numbers and conversant with a very wide range of fields that may at first seem only distantly related. To keep his books (including this one) down to a reasonable length, he uses abbreviations very heavily. His abbreviation system turns out to be quite simple, but might seem incredibly obscure to some who aren't familiar with it. All number dimensions are metric (much more than just gram-centimeter-second, uses commonly used measures like "tons"). As with all of Vaclav Smil's books, very full of numbers and conversant with a very wide range of fields that may at first seem only distantly related. To keep his books (including this one) down to a reasonable length, he uses abbreviations very heavily. His abbreviation system turns out to be quite simple, but might seem incredibly obscure to some who aren't familiar with it. All number dimensions are metric (much more than just gram-centimeter-second, uses commonly used measures like "tons"). As the numbers can be quite large, the metric prefixes (milli, micro, mega, giga, etc.) are used extensively. Most of the things quantified are named by their chemical element name (C, P, etc.) or molecular formula (CO2, O3, etc.). A few are either inferred from context, or use a very common acronym other than the chemical formula (DMS for Di-Methyl-Sulfide, etc.). The only one that initially tripped me up was 'a', which means 'annum' or in the vernacular 'year'. So 4.2 Ga means 4.2 Billion years (the probable age of the earth:-), and 6Mt C means 6 million tons of Carbon, etc.) The notation system is thoroughly explained in appendices in _some_ of his books ...but not this particular one. If you're not already familiar with his notation system, this book will likely be incomprehensible, and you unfortunately may not perceive much recourse. In this book professor Smil sets out to approach some sort of "forecasting", something he's normally extremely reluctant to do. He makes so many compromises on just what "forecasting" actually means, and even then is somewhat uncomfortable with the result, that this book is less satisfying than many of his others. As usual he sticks to numbers, staying as far away from "politics" (and even "shoulds") as possible. As usual for his books, this book is most definitely not anything like a "polemic". It's very nice to read such an even-handed and thorough approach. (On the other hand, it will probably inevitably be judged unsatisfactory by any reader with a strong commitment to one position or another.) As usual for his books, the depth of information is astounding. Numbers seem to go *tens *of *times* deeper (in all cases, not just one particular case) than anything else you've ever read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    A very solid comprehensive introduction to the concept of the biosphere - the macro ecological system of which we arise from, are supported by, and are a participant in. Understanding the concept of the biosphere is of upmost importance to understanding what exactly is at stake in climate change. And dont worry. The big rock we are standing on will be fine invariably. The ecological web, less so. Reading smil is never a smooth walk in the park. His erudition is superb as he spans between a ton o A very solid comprehensive introduction to the concept of the biosphere - the macro ecological system of which we arise from, are supported by, and are a participant in. Understanding the concept of the biosphere is of upmost importance to understanding what exactly is at stake in climate change. And dont worry. The big rock we are standing on will be fine invariably. The ecological web, less so. Reading smil is never a smooth walk in the park. His erudition is superb as he spans between a ton of subjects with a clear comprehension beyond that of the classic journalist. He is very much an academic. At times his words come at you like a storm of rocks numbers and quantities, at time it will hurt to move through the many numbers, charts and words, BUT to simply be able to encounter an individual so well read in so many things is quite rare. In short, this is a great book. Painful at times as it would be nice if he had a bit better if he played with the melody of language rather than giving straight facts. But alas, he does what he says he would do in the title. Recommended for those interested in: Climate change Evolution Ecology Gaia theory Systems thinkers

  4. 4 out of 5

    Deb

    It's text bookey but I like that about it. Very factual and thought provoking. It's text bookey but I like that about it. Very factual and thought provoking.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Larry Kilham

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mike Parkes

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ema Jones

  8. 4 out of 5

    Paul Ferry

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brian Napoletano

  10. 4 out of 5

    Giles Thomas

  11. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

  12. 4 out of 5

    John Avery

    This changed my outlook on the world. Amazing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Christy

  14. 4 out of 5

    OTIS

  15. 5 out of 5

    James Kearnan

  16. 4 out of 5

    Todd

  17. 5 out of 5

    LPenting

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

  19. 5 out of 5

    Christian

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dan Robertson

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Hicks

  22. 5 out of 5

    s

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dick

  24. 4 out of 5

    Toby

  25. 5 out of 5

    James Tomasino

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jackson Chui

  27. 5 out of 5

    Damian

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joe Hollins

  29. 5 out of 5

    Seamus

  30. 4 out of 5

    Subhajit Das

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