Last updated
Vladimir Vernadsky, founder of biogeochemistry 1934-V I Vernadsky.jpg
Vladimir Vernadsky, founder of biogeochemistry

Biogeochemistry is the scientific discipline that involves the study of the chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes and reactions that govern the composition of the natural environment (including the biosphere, the cryosphere, the hydrosphere, the pedosphere, the atmosphere, and the lithosphere). In particular, biogeochemistry is the study of biogeochemical cycles, the cycles of chemical elements such as carbon and nitrogen, and their interactions with and incorporation into living things transported through earth scale biological systems in space and time. The field focuses on chemical cycles which are either driven by or influence biological activity. Particular emphasis is placed on the study of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, iron, and phosphorus cycles. Biogeochemistry is a systems science closely related to systems ecology.



Early Greek

Early Greeks established the core idea of biogeochemistry that nature consists of cycles. [1]

18th-19th centuries

Agricultural interest in 18th-century soil chemistry led to better understanding of nutrients and their connection to biochemical processes. This relationship between the cycles of organic life and their chemical products was further expanded upon by Dumas and Boussingault in a 1844 paper that is considered an important milestone in the development of biogeochemistry. [1] [2] [3] Jean-Baptiste Lamarck first used the term biosphere in 1802, and others continued to develop the concept throughout the 19th century. [2] Early climate research by scientists like Charles Lyell, John Tyndall, and Joseph Fourier began to link glaciation, weathering, and climate. [4]

20th century

The founder of modern biogeochemistry was Vladimir Vernadsky, a Russian and Ukrainian scientist whose 1926 book The Biosphere, [5] in the tradition of Mendeleev, formulated a physics of the Earth as a living whole. [6] Vernadsky distinguished three spheres, where a sphere was a concept similar to the concept of a phase-space. He observed that each sphere had its own laws of evolution, and that the higher spheres modified and dominated the lower:

  1. Abiotic sphere – all the non-living energy and material processes
  2. Biosphere – the life processes that live within the abiotic sphere
  3. Nöesis or noosphere – the sphere of human cognitive process

Human activities (e.g., agriculture and industry) modify the biosphere and abiotic sphere. In the contemporary environment, the amount of influence humans have on the other two spheres is comparable to a geological force (see Anthropocene).

The American limnologist and geochemist G. Evelyn Hutchinson is credited with outlining the broad scope and principles of this new field. More recently, the basic elements of the discipline of biogeochemistry were restated and popularized by the British scientist and writer, James Lovelock, under the label of the Gaia Hypothesis . Lovelock emphasized a concept that life processes regulate the Earth through feedback mechanisms to keep it habitable. The research of Manfred Schidlowski was concerned with the biochemistry of the Early Earth. [7]

Biogeochemical cycles

Biogeochemical cycles are the pathways by which chemical substances cycle (are turned over or moved through) the biotic and the abiotic compartments of Earth. The biotic compartment is the biosphere and the abiotic compartments are the atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere. There are biogeochemical cycles for chemical elements, such as for calcium, carbon, hydrogen, mercury, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, selenium, iron and sulfur, as well as molecular cycles, such as for water and silica. There are also macroscopic cycles, such as the rock cycle, and human-induced cycles for synthetic compounds such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). In some cycles there are reservoirs where a substance can remain or be sequestered for a long period of time. [8] [9] [10]


Biogeochemistry research groups exist in many universities around the world. Since this is a highly interdisciplinary field, these are situated within a wide range of host disciplines including: atmospheric sciences, biology, ecology, geomicrobiology, environmental chemistry, geology, oceanography and soil science. These are often bracketed into larger disciplines such as earth science and environmental science.

Many researchers investigate the biogeochemical cycles of chemical elements such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur, as well as their stable isotopes. The cycles of trace elements such as the trace metals and the radionuclides are also studied. This research has obvious applications in the exploration for ore deposits and oil, and in remediation of environmental pollution.

Some important research fields for biogeochemistry include:

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vladimir Vernadsky</span> Soviet geochemist (1863–1945)

Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky or Volodymyr Ivanovych Vernadsky was a Russian, Ukrainian and Soviet mineralogist and geochemist who is considered one of the founders of geochemistry, biogeochemistry, and radiogeology. He was one of the founders and the first president of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. Vladimir Vernadsky is most noted for his 1926 book The Biosphere in which he inadvertently worked to popularize Eduard Suess' 1885 term biosphere, by hypothesizing that life is the geological force that shapes the earth. In 1943 he was awarded the Stalin Prize. Vernadsky's portrait is depicted on the Ukrainian ₴1,000 hryvnia banknote.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gaia hypothesis</span> Paradigm that living organisms interact with their surroundings in a self-regulating system

The Gaia hypothesis, also known as the Gaia theory, Gaia paradigm, or the Gaia principle, proposes that living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic and self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Biogeochemical cycle</span> Chemical transfer pathway between Earths biological and non-biological parts

A biogeochemical cycle is the pathway by which a chemical substance cycles the biotic and the abiotic compartments of Earth. The biotic compartment is the biosphere and the abiotic compartments are the atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere. There are biogeochemical cycles for chemical elements, such as for calcium, carbon, hydrogen, mercury, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, selenium, iron and sulfur, as well as molecular cycles, such as for water and silica. There are also macroscopic cycles, such as the rock cycle, and human-induced cycles for synthetic compounds such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). In some cycles there are reservoirs where a substance can remain or be sequestered for a long period of time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Natural environment</span> Living and non-living things on Earth

The natural environment or natural world encompasses all living and non-living things occurring naturally, meaning in this case not artificial. The term is most often applied to the Earth or some parts of Earth. This environment encompasses the interaction of all living species, climate, weather and natural resources that affect human survival and economic activity. The concept of the natural environment can be distinguished as components:

The pedosphere is the outermost layer of the Earth that is composed of soil and subject to soil formation processes. It exists at the interface of the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere. The pedosphere is the skin of the Earth and only develops when there is a dynamic interaction between the atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere and the hydrosphere. The pedosphere is the foundation of terrestrial life on Earth.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Iron cycle</span>

The iron cycle (Fe) is the biogeochemical cycle of iron through the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and lithosphere. While Fe is highly abundant in the Earth's crust, it is less common in oxygenated surface waters. Iron is a key micronutrient in primary productivity, and a limiting nutrient in the Southern ocean, eastern equatorial Pacific, and the subarctic Pacific referred to as High-Nutrient, Low-Chlorophyll (HNLC) regions of the ocean.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Geobiology</span>

Geobiology is a field of scientific research that explores the interactions between the physical Earth and the biosphere. It is a relatively young field, and its borders are fluid. There is considerable overlap with the fields of ecology, evolutionary biology, microbiology, paleontology, and particularly soil science and biogeochemistry. Geobiology applies the principles and methods of biology, geology, and soil science to the study of the ancient history of the co-evolution of life and Earth as well as the role of life in the modern world. Geobiologic studies tend to be focused on microorganisms, and on the role that life plays in altering the chemical and physical environment of the pedosphere, which exists at the intersection of the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and/or cryosphere. It differs from biogeochemistry in that the focus is on processes and organisms over space and time rather than on global chemical cycles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Max Planck Institute for Chemistry</span>

The Max Planck Institute for Chemistry is a non-university research institute under the auspices of the Max Planck Society in Mainz, Germany. It was created as the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in 1911 in Berlin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Redfield ratio</span>

The Redfield ratio or Redfield stoichiometry is the consistent atomic ratio of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus found in marine phytoplankton and throughout the deep oceans.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phosphorus cycle</span> Biogeochemical movement

The phosphorus cycle is the biogeochemical cycle that describes the movement of phosphorus through the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Unlike many other biogeochemical cycles, the atmosphere does not play a significant role in the movement of phosphorus, because phosphorus and phosphorus-based compounds are usually solids at the typical ranges of temperature and pressure found on Earth. The production of phosphine gas occurs in only specialized, local conditions. Therefore, the phosphorus cycle should be viewed from whole Earth system and then specifically focused on the cycle in terrestrial and aquatic systems.

William H. Schlesinger is a biogeochemist and the retired president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, an independent not-for-profit environmental research organization in Millbrook, New York. He assumed that position after 27 years on the faculty of Duke University, where he served as the Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and James B. Duke Professor of Biogeochemistry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Earth science</span> Fields of natural science related to Earth

Earth science or geoscience includes all fields of natural science related to the planet Earth. This is a branch of science dealing with the physical, chemical, and biological complex constitutions and synergistic linkages of Earth's four spheres, namely biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and geosphere. Earth science can be considered to be a branch of planetary science, but with a much older history. Earth science encompasses four main branches of study, the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere, each of which is further broken down into more specialized fields.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nutrient cycle</span> Set of processes exchanging nutrients between parts of a system

A nutrient cycle is the movement and exchange of inorganic and organic matter back into the production of matter. Energy flow is a unidirectional and noncyclic pathway, whereas the movement of mineral nutrients is cyclic. Mineral cycles include the carbon cycle, sulfur cycle, nitrogen cycle, water cycle, phosphorus cycle, oxygen cycle, among others that continually recycle along with other mineral nutrients into productive ecological nutrition.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fred T. Mackenzie</span> American sedimentary biogeochemist

Frederick T. Mackenzie is an American sedimentary and global biogeochemist. Mackenzie applies experimental and field data coupled to a sound theoretical framework to the solution of geological, geochemical, and oceanographic problems at various time and space scales.

Meinrat O. Andreae, born in 1949 in Augsburg, is a German biogeochemist. Since 1987, he has worked as Director and Scientific Member at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (MPIC) in Mainz.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marine biogeochemical cycles</span>

Marine biogeochemical cycles are biogeochemical cycles that occur within marine environments, that is, in the saltwater of seas or oceans or the brackish water of coastal estuaries. These biogeochemical cycles are the pathways chemical substances and elements move through within the marine environment. In addition, substances and elements can be imported into or exported from the marine environment. These imports and exports can occur as exchanges with the atmosphere above, the ocean floor below, or as runoff from the land.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carbon source</span>

The molecules that an organism uses as its carbon source for generating biomass are referred to as "carbon sources" in biology. It is possible for organic or inorganic sources of carbon. Heterotrophs must use organic molecules as both are a source of carbon and energy, in contrast to autotrophs, which can use inorganic materials as both a source of carbon and an abiotic source of energy, such as, for instance, inorganic chemical energy or light (photoautotrophs) (chemolithotrophs). The carbon cycle, which begins with a carbon source that is inorganic, such as carbon dioxide and progresses through the carbon fixation process, includes the biological use of carbon as one of its components.[1]

Caroline Masiello is a biogeochemist who develops tools to better understand the cycling and fate of globally relevant elemental cycles. She is a professor at Rice University in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences and holds joint appointments in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Departments. Masiello was elected as a Fellow of the Geological Society of America in 2017. She currently leads an interdisciplinary team of scientists who are developing microbial sensors for earth system science.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Silica cycle</span> Biogeochemical cycle

The silica cycle is the biogeochemical cycle in which biogenic silica is transported between the Earth's systems. Silicon is considered a bioessential element and is one of the most abundant elements on Earth. The silica cycle has significant overlap with the carbon cycle and plays an important role in the sequestration of carbon through continental weathering, biogenic export and burial as oozes on geologic timescales.

Kate Lajtha is an ecologist known for her use of stable isotopes to examine biogeochemical cycling in soils.


  1. 1 2 Gorham, Eville (1991-01-01). "Biogeochemistry: its origins and development". Biogeochemistry. 13 (3): 199–239. doi:10.1007/BF00002942. ISSN   1573-515X. S2CID   128563314.
  2. 1 2 Bianchi, Thomas S. (2021-06-01). "The evolution of biogeochemistry: revisited". Biogeochemistry. 154 (2): 141–181. doi:10.1007/s10533-020-00708-0. ISSN   1573-515X. S2CID   227165026.
  3. Dumas, J.-B.; Boussingault, J. B. (1844). The chemical and physiological balance of organic nature; an essay (The 3d ed., with new documents. ed.). London: H. Bailliere. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.137099.
  4. Bard, Edouard (2004-06-01). "Greenhouse effect and ice ages: historical perspective". Comptes Rendus Geoscience. 336 (7): 603–638. Bibcode:2004CRGeo.336..603B. doi:10.1016/j.crte.2004.02.005. ISSN   1631-0713.
  5. Vladimir I. Vernadsky, 2007, Essays on Geochemistry & the Biosphere, tr. Olga Barash, Santa Fe, NM, Synergetic Press, ISBN   0-907791-36-0 (originally published in Russian in 1924)
  6. Schlesinger, William H. (2020). Biogeochemistry : an analysis of global change. Emily S. Bernhardt (4th ed.). London. ISBN   978-0-12-814609-5. OCLC   1183905251.
  7. Manfred Schidlowski: Carbon isotopes as biochemical recorders of life over 3.8 Ga of Earth history: Evolution of a concept . In: Precambrian Research. Vol. 106, Issues 1-2, 1 February 2001, pages 117-134.
  8. Moses, M. (2012) Biogeochemical cycles Archived 2021-11-22 at the Wayback Machine . Encyclopedia of Earth .
  9. Fisher M. R. (Ed.) (2019) Environmental Biology, 3.2 Biogeochemical Cycles Archived 2021-09-27 at the Wayback Machine , OpenStax. "Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0". Archived from the original on 2017-10-16. Retrieved 2022-05-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link).
  10. Biogeochemical Cycles Archived 2021-09-27 at the Wayback Machine , OpenStax, 9 May 2019. "Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0". Archived from the original on 2017-10-16. Retrieved 2022-05-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link).

Representative books and publications