Tyler Volk

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Tyler Volk
EducationNew York University (PhD)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorMartin Hoffert
WebsiteNYU website

Tyler Volk is a professor in the departments of environmental studies and biology at New York University.

His areas of interest include principles of form and function in systems (described as metapatterns), environmental challenges to global prosperity, CO2 and global change, biosphere theory and the role of life in earth dynamics.


Tyler Volk has authored seven books, most recently, Quarks to Culture: How We Came to Be[1]

Quarks to Culture explores the rhythm within what Tyler Volk calls the "grand sequence," a series of levels of sizes and innovations building from elementary quanta to globalized human civilization. The key is "combogenesis," the building-up from combination and integration to produce new things with innovative relations. Themes unfold in how physics and chemistry led to biological evolution, and biological evolution to cultural evolution. Volk develops an inclusive natural philosophy that brings clarity to our place in the world, a roadmap for our minds."[2] Quarks to Culture was reviewed in Science in January 2018.[3]

His previous books include: CO2 Rising: The World’s Greatest Environmental Challenge,[4] What is Death?: A Scientist Looks at the Cycle of Life,[5] Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of Earth,[6] and Metapatterns: Across Space, Time, and Mind.[7]

Environmental Studies and Teaching[edit]

With Dale Jamieson, Christopher Schlottmann, and others, Volk helped plan and develop the interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Program launched at New York University in Fall 2007. In Fall 2014, Environmental Studies[8] became a department in NYU’s Faculty of Arts and Science. Volk was awarded NYU’s “Golden Dozen” teaching award for academic years 2003-2004 and 2007-2008.[9][10] In academic year 2008-2009 Volk received an all-university Distinguished Teaching Award.[11]

Biosphere Science[edit]

Volk works toward knowledge about life on a global scale; past, present, and future. His collaborative research contributed to understanding the biosphere, with "biosphere" defined as the integrated system of atmosphere, ocean, soil, and life.[12] Volk's modeling of the global carbon cycle quantified biological versus physical-chemical impacts on the distribution of carbon and other elements in world's oceans.[13][14]

Throughout deep time, biological evolution has been as important as purely physical forcings in shaping Earth's thermal and chemical states.[15] For instance, the evolution of plankton with shells of calcium carbonate increased the steady-state level of atmospheric CO2 and therefore pushed Earth's climate toward additional greenhouse warmth.[16] The evolution of flowering plants (angiosperms) had the opposite effect, cooling the Earth by enhancing chemical weathering rates on the continents and thereby lowering the steady-state levels of CO2.[17]

Volk's work with colleague David Schwartzman showed that an overall “biotic enhancement of weathering,” including activities by ancient bacterial mats and crusts, cooled the Earth by 30 or more degrees C (best estimates) relative to the baseline of an abiotic Earth.[18] Without an initial downward forcing of global temperature by the microbes, certain proteins would not have had enough stability for higher forms of life to evolve, such as plants.[19]

At the American Geophysical Union's Chapman Conference on the Gaia Hypothesis (Valencia, Spain, 2000), Volk served on the program committee and presented, “The future of Gaia theory: How to build a lively biosphere.”[20] Clarifying a distinctive version of the Gaia-biosphere, Volk introduced concepts such as “biochemical guilds,” by-products, and “cycling ratios” across several works.[21] He debated terms such as “regulation” and issues about the structure of “Gaia” with James Lovelock, Tim Lenton, and David Wilkinson.[22][23] Volk also publicly debated Axel Kleidon on the role of entropy in the biosphere.[24]

NASA Advanced Life Support[edit]

Working for NASA on futuristic space projects, Volk built math models for the cycling of elements in what were called "closed ecological life support systems" (CELSS). From 1986-1998, he was active in this research subfield of advanced life support, helping NASA plan the systems that might someday keep astronauts alive on the Moon and Mars. With colleague John Rummel, he developed some of the first computer models to connect the flows and chemical transformations of crop production, human metabolism, and waste processing.[25][26] Volk then turned attention to the modeling of crop growth and development for enhanced productivity, collaborating with experimentalists at Utah State University and at NASA centers in Florida, Texas, and California, in particular publishing with crop physiologists Bruce Bugbee of Utah State University and Raymond Wheeler of Kennedy Space Center,[27] as well as with his Ph.D. students Francesco Tubiello and James Cavazonni.[28][29]


  1. ^ Volk, Tyler (May 2017). Quarks to Culture: How We Came to Be. USA: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231179607.
  2. ^ Volk, Tyler (April 2017). "Quarks to Culture". Columbia University Press. Retrieved April 10, 2017.
  3. ^ Wood, Barry (19 Jan 2018). "Quarks, culture, combogenesis". Science. 359 (6373): 281.
  4. ^ Volk, Tyler (2008). CO2 Rising: The World’s Greatest Environmental Challenge. USA: The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-22083-5.
  5. ^ Volk, Tyler (2002). What is Death?: A Scientist Looks at the Cycle of Life. USA: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-37544-6.
  6. ^ Volk, Tyler (1998). Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of the Earth. USA: Copernicus Books/Springer-Verlag. ISBN 0-262-72042-6.
  7. ^ Volk, Tyler (1996). Metapatterns: Across Space, Time, and Mind. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231067515.
  8. ^ "NYU Department of Environmental Studies".
  9. ^ "NYU Teaching Awards 2004".
  10. ^ "NYU Teaching Awards 2008".
  11. ^ "Distinguished Teaching Award Recipients".
  12. ^ Volk, Tyler (2009), Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change, Biodepletion, and Earth Ethics in an Age of Crisis, in "How the biosphere works," E. Crist and B. Rinker, The MIT Press, pages 27-40.
  13. ^ Volk, Tyler; Hoffert, Martin (1985), "Ocean carbon pumps: analysis of relative strengths and efficiencies in ocean-driven atmospheric CO2 changes", in E. T. Sundquist and W. S. Broecker, The Carbon Cycle and Atmospheric CO2: Natural Variations Archean to Present, Geophysical Monograph 32, American Geophysical Union, Wash., D.C., pp. 99–110.
  14. ^ Volk, Tyler; Liu, Z. (1988). "Controls on CO2 sources and sinks in the earthscale surface ocean: temperature, nutrients". Global Biogeochemical Cycles. 2: 73–89.
  15. ^ Volk, Tyler (1998). Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of the Earth. USA: Copernicus Books/Springer-Verlag. ISBN 0-262-72042-6.
  16. ^ Volk, Tyler (1989). "Sensitivity of climate and atmospheric CO2 to deep-ocean and shallow-ocean carbonate burial". Nature. 337: 637–640.
  17. ^ Volk, Tyler (1989). "Rise of angiosperms as a factor in long-term climatic cooling". Geology. 17: 107–110.
  18. ^ Schwartzman, David W.; Volk, Tyler (1989). "Biotic enhancement of weathering and the habitability of Earth". Nature. 340: 457–460.
  19. ^ Schwartzman, David (1999). Life, Temperature, and the Earth. Columbia University Press.
  20. ^ "American Geophysical Union's Chapman Conference on the Gaia Hypothesis".
  21. ^ Volk, Tyler (1998). Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of the Earth. USA: Copernicus Books/Springer-Verlag. ISBN 0-262-72042-6.
  22. ^ Volk, Tyler (2003). "Seeing deeper into Gaia theory: A reply to Lovelock's response". Climatic Change. 57: 5–7.
  23. ^ Volk, Tyler (2003). "Natural selection, Gaia, and inadvertent by-products: A reply to Lenton and Wilkinson's response". Climatic Change. 58: 13–19.
  24. ^ Volk, Tyler (2007). "The properties of organisms are not tunable parameters selected because they create maximum entropy production on the biosphere scale: A by-product framework in response to Kleidon". Climatic Change. 85: 251–258.
  25. ^ Volk, Tyler; Rummel, John D. (1987). "Mass balances for a biological life support system simulation model". Advances in Space Research. 7 (4): (4)141-(4)148.
  26. ^ Rummel, John D.; Volk, Tyler (1987). "A modular BLSS simulation model". Advances in Space Research. 7 (4): (4)59-(4)67.
  27. ^ Volk, Tyler; Bugbee, Bruce; Wheeler, Raymond M. (1995). "An approach to crop modeling with the energy cascade,". Life Support and Biosphere Science. 1: 119–127.
  28. ^ Tubiello, Francesco N.; Volk, Tyler; Bugbee, Bruce (1997). "Diffuse light and wheat radiation-use efficiency in a controlled environment". Life Support and Biosphere Science. 4: 77–85.
  29. ^ Cavazzoni, James; Volk, Tyler; Stutte, Gary (1997). "A modified Cropgro model for simulating soybean growth in controlled environments". Life Support and Biosphere Science. 4: 43–48.

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