Geophysiology: the birth of a new science

Just as physiology is the science of medicine, so geophysiology has arisen as the science of Gaia. Both are systems sciences: physiology is concerned with how living organisms work; geophysiology is concerned with how the living Earth works. Geophysiology ignores the traditional divisions between the Earth and life sciences, which view the evolution of the rocks and the evolution of life as two separate sciences. Instead, geophysiology treats the two processes as a single evolutionary science which, when properly studied, can effectively describe the history of the whole planet.


Whether Gaia is a true picture of the world may be less important than its ability to stimulate the right questions about planetary chemistry, and so open up fertile new areas of research. Its remarkable track record in predicting self-regulatory interactions of biota and the environment is illustrated in the table below, In each case, a question suggested by Gaia theory led to a prediction of a possible link, and subsequent research has either confirmed this prediction as correct, or opened further areas of interest.


That Mars was lifeless from atmospheric evidence
Viking Mission 1977
Strong confirmation
That organisms would make compounds that can transfer essential elements from the oceans to the land surfaces 1971 Dimethyl sulphide and methyl iodide both found 1973
That climate may be regulated by the control of carbon dioxide through biologically enhanced rock weathering 1981 Microorganisms greatly increase rock weathering
That climate regulation via cloud density control is linked to algal sulphur gas emissions 1987 Still under test; evidence that oceanic cloud cover geographically matches algal distribution 1990
That oxygen has stayed at 21 ± 5% for past 200 million years 1973 Still under test
That Archean atmospheric chemistry was dominated by methane 1988 Still under test