Geochemistry of natural waters - The legacy of V.I. Vernadsky and his students

W. M. Edmunds, A. A. Bogush

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The geochemist, Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky has only recently become recognised internationally, despite being regarded as one of the greatest names in science of the 20th century in his homeland Russia. There are several reasons for his lack of renown in the west, but mainly because his most important work "The Biosphere" was only fully translated into English in 1997. This book and the ideas it contains are now becoming regarded as one of the pioneering works of the last century. It defines the biosphere as a unifying, holistic concept for the earth system at a time when reductionism was the driving motivation in scientific research. Above all, for earth scientists, Vernadsky regarded life as the driving geological force. However another, as yet unpublished work (in three volumes) entitled "The History of Natural Waters" also deserves similar attention. This book explores many concepts in hydrogeology, geochemistry, geofluid circulation and especially biology in which water is described as an integral part of the biosphere. Vernadsky's teachers, including Mendeleev, Butlerov and Dokuchaev had a special influence on his early career path. He published prolifically in the 1920s and 1930s as well as founding several key institutions in Russia and Eastern Europe. The influence of the Russian school of landscape geochemistry, led by Dokuchaev also had a great influence on Vernadsky's scientific work and productivity, as was a period of study in France in the 1920s. The History of Natural Waters covers the spectrum of hydrogeochemical phenomena, in rather a descriptive way, yet its influence as the foundation of later ideas on hydrochemical processes and water-rock interaction, as well as hydrogeology, can easily be recognised. As well as including the role of biology in hydrogeochemistry, this work clearly emphasises the role of mans' influence on changing the chemistry of natural waters. Vernadsky adopted the concept of the 'Noosphere' (the evolution of human thought) to emphasis man's role as a geological agent. His publications foreshadow Gaia theory some half a century later. Vernadsky's works thus made a huge contribution to the development of many science areas and have changed the scientific world view; moreover they have defined the position of mankind in the evolution of the Earth and the biosphere and also put urgent questions for future generations with significance at the present time. His ideas have not always been understood and even more so recognised. He always remembered the words of Alexander von Humboldt: "A hundred years are necessary to reach the truth and another hundred in order to start following it"

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1871-1886
Number of pages16
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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