The Noösphere and “Cultural Waters”: A Vernadskian View of the Water Crisis

The Noösphere and “Cultural Waters”: A Vernadskian View of the Water Crisis

Apr 8 2015

Russian-Ukrainian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945) would certainly weigh in on the severe drought affecting California in particular, as well as the Western United States, and other parts of the world. In fact, Vernadsky’s study of both what he called the “biosphere,” the sphere of the natural world, and the “noösphere,” that sphere as shaped by the reason of man and for man, is reflected in some of his thoughts on water.

Vernadsky wrote a whole tome devoted to water, only snippets of which have been translated into English, but they are quite telling. Vernadsky’s work on water focused on what he saw as the need to classify water as a mineral, based on its “history.” This domain of study would allow water to be classified based on the natural processes it had interacted with.

In this same vein, Vernadsky saw the need to classify waters which had been managed by the human mind, a new class of waters he called “cultural waters,” which had intersected, as he put it, both the mind and will of man. In his own words:

“Modern land water (all surface water and part of perched groundwater and soil water) is a geologically new phenomenon in the history of the planet, nonexistent in past geologic epochs. The eternal influence of living matter on waters was changed by the appearance of Homo Sapiens Faber gifted with mind and will. All land waters are being increasingly changed under its purposeful conscious and unconscious influence. This leads to numerous changes in the whole mechanism of the biosphere. A change of natural waters by culture is the lever which humankind uses, willingly or unwillingly, to perform it.”

In California and elsewhere, mankind is obligated to create new cultural waters in taking control of the water cycles. We are not a species whose actions should be determined by natural cycles, we should determine and create new ones:

“The whole Pleistocene nature, the whole biosphere has been changed by the activity of civilized humankind, and this process extends to depths, and changes the regime of formation waters of the biosphere and stratisphere. Changes in perched groundwaters have occurred already over thousands of years, changes in formation pressure waters by drilling and mining activity began later. Now these changes extend in places to depths of more than 2 km below the surface. In the whole of the biosphere, old types of surface and formation waters as well as waters of soils and springs disappear and change, while new cultural waters are formed.”

—Vladimir Vernadsky,
“History of Natural Waters”

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