Tyler Volk

Professor of Biology, Environmental Studies; Interim Director, Science Director of Environmental Studies

Ph.D. 1984 (applied science), M.S. 1982 (applied science), New York; B.S. 1971 (architecture), Michigan.

Office Address: 

New York University
Department of Biology
1009 Silver Center
100 Washington Square East
New York, NY 10003-6688


(212) 998-3736


(212) 995-4015

Personal Homepage: 


Areas of Research/Interest: 

Environmental challenges to global prosperity, metapatterns and principles of form and function in systems, CO2 and global change, the role of life in Earth dynamics


Volk, T. Death, half of Death & Sex, with co-author D. Sagan, Chelsea Green, 2009.

Volk, T. CO2 Rising: The World’s Greatest Environmental Challenge, The MIT Press, 2008.

Volk, T., Earth Science Success in Twenty Minutes a Day, LearningExpress (New York), 2005.

Volk, T. What is Death?: A Scientist Looks at the Cycle of Life, John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

Volk, T. Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of the Earth, Copernicus Books/Springer-Verlag, 1998. (paperback: MIT Press, 2003)

Volk, T., Metapatterns Across Space, Time, and Mind, Columbia University Press, 1995.

(Also: Spanish and Italian translations of Gaia’s Body, Spanish translation of Death & Sex)


In phrases: challenges to achieving global prosperity, lifestyle input analysis, the global carbon cycle and climate, metapatterns and functions of general systems, roles of life in the earth system, biogeochemical aspects of global change, entropy, and advanced space life support. Much of this work concerns the present and future of humans in a global environment, the cycling of materials by living systems, and the coupling of biological models to physical and chemical processes. I also investigate transdisciplinary principles of form and function.

In my book CO2 Rising, I presented numbers for per capita GDP, energy input, and fossil fuel CO2 emissions for various nations and regions. But lifestyle is more than energy. I am currently carrying our investigations under what I term “lifestyle input analysis.” What is the current state of Earth in terms of human well-being and human impact on Earth’s natural systems? Energy, CO2, climate, agriculture, water, and material fluxes are intricately tied together as a global system that has been expanding for decades by about 3% per year (in economic terms). If continued, by 2050 this growth rate would lead to a world in which the average world citizen would have a lifestyle approximately equal to that of today’s average European or Japanese (again, in terms of economic well-being). Will this be possible? What are the implications for the environmental issues such as energy, land use, agriculture, water, forestry, fisheries, and resource inputs such as metals, as well as waste fluxes, technologies of recycling, and the applicability of numerical indicators of sustainability?
My research into the global carbon cycle in Earth’s past, for example, suggests that biological evolution has been at least as important in shaping the Earth's thermal and chemical regimes as pure physical forcings. In one case, the evolution of plankton with shells of calcium carbonate pushed Earth's climate toward additional greenhouse warmth. Further back, bacterial mats and crusts changed the climate billions of years before the first mosses and ferns greened the landscape, cooling the Earth by 30 degrees C. Without this microbial forcing of global temperature, complex proteins would not have been chemically stable enough for higher forms of life to evolve.

This type of research is in a field that might be called general biosphere theory. I have suggested an approach that involves close attention to how organisms fit into and in fact make the chemical cycles, the so-called biogeochemical cycles. A potential universal metric for these cycles is the "cycling ratio." This is the ratio of an element's flux into the photosynthesizers within a system (either the biosphere system or subsystems within) relative to the flux of that same element across the system's boundary into the system. I am interested not only in how this metric could be useful for biosphere theory, but also its potential to help guide us toward global prosperity, as humans increase their “cycling ratio” of material inputs drawn from the Earth.

For many years I was active in the research field of advanced life support, helping NASA plan the systems that might someday keep astronauts alive on the Moon and Mars. I developed one of the first computer models to connect the flows and chemical transformations of crop production, human metabolism, and waste processing. I then turned attention to the modeling of crop growth and development for enhancing productivity, collaborating with experimentalists at Utah State University and at NASA centers in Florida, Texas, and California. They grew the crops in controlled environments, I built the models to help understand and predict results.

Finally, I also wish to note my ongoing look into the relationship between form and function on all levels of reality. This passion for the interdisciplinary is expressed in my book: Metapatterns Across Space, Time, and Mind. It presents a synthesis of science, philosophy, and psychology in the universal patterns that underlie our lives and the world around us. As visual ideas, metapatterns facilitate explorations about the architecture of existence at all levels: borders, binaries, centers, layers, arrows, breaks, cycles, and more. As a way to explore relations between parts and wholes, metapatterns appear to be grand attractors - functional universals for forms in space, processes in time, and concepts in mind. Along a similar line, I have looked at the intertwining of death and life on multiple scales, from bacteria to personal psychology. See, for example, by co-authored book with Dorion Sagan, Death & Sex.


B.S. (Architecture), University of Michigan, 1971.

M.S. (Applied Science), New York University, 1982.

Ph.D. (Applied Science), New York University, 1984, advisor: Martin Hoffert.

I grew up in the small industrial city of North Tonawanda, New York State, on the banks of the Niagara River just upstream from Niagara Falls. The air was sometimes filled with acrid fumes from a nearby paper mill, but my spirit was boosted by the nearby healthy green expanses of Pine Woods Park, a place where a boy could both lose and find himself in the wonders of nature.

Eventually came college. At the University of Michigan I headed first into physics, but a concern for helping society led me into architecture, a discipline wherein along with my math skills I sought to apply powers of visualization, as well as flex an interest in social psychology. For many years after graduating I was a private builder, and during that time had my first published technical note on a "solar heated bath," which I had designed, tested, and constructed. After more hands-dirty work and part time teaching positions in everything from middle school science and math, to the School of Visual Arts and adult education, I decided to enter graduate school to learn the quantitative details of sustainable energy systems.

There in graduate school (or should I say, here, for it was at NYU) I became entranced with the concept of the Earth as a solar collector and the fact that the same thermodynamic and energy equations used for energy technologies were employed for studying climate and other enigmas about our planet, which was (and is) in dire need of our understanding. But somewhere in me also bubbled up that love for the living world, which encompassed the trees of Pine Woods Park bound into an integrated system with humanity. We are subjecting ourselves and all else to our own wastes products in the closed bottle of the biosphere, causing carbon dioxide, as one infamous example, to rise year by year.

Concerned, I sought to incorporate biology into studying the future of this greenhouse gas. For my Ph.D research, I studied the role of life in distributing carbon and other elements at various depths in the world ocean. Continuing on with employment at NYU, for many years I have endeavored to understand various aspects of life on a global scale, past, present, and future, as noted in the research outlines above and in the papers in the list below. Work for NASA took me into the realm of future space projects, where I built math models for the cycling of elements in what are called "closed ecological life support systems." My passions now are further ranging than ever: to help guide the global future, look into the cycling efficiencies of various ecosystems, to continue with the work in metapatterns, to incorporate findings in neurobiology, consciousness, and all other expressions of human patterns, whether found in art, religion, or science.


I have made a number of general interest videos, available on youtube under the channel of “ProfessorTylerVolk”:


You can also see videos of the band in which I play lead guitar, The Amygdaloids, (http://www.amygdaloids.com)  for example, performing a song I wrote called “The Automatic Mind”:


Professional and general public presentations

Please contact me if you are interested.


Teaching Awards from NYU:

2009. All-University Distinguished Teaching Award

2008. Golden Dozen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

2004. Golden Dozen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Undergraduate Courses taught at NYU
V55.0311 — Lessons from the Biosphere (A MAP Natural Science-II course)

V36.0333 — Limits to the Earth—Issues in Human Ecology

V28.0154 — Transdisciplinary Investigations across Multiple Evolutionary Scales (Collegiate Seminar)

V36.0100 — Environmental Systems Science

V23.0009/V49.0012 — Whole Earth Science: The Global Environment

V49.0330 — Cities and Their Environments

V50.0202 — Metapatterns in Nature, Mind, and Culture (Freshman honors seminar)

Graduate Courses taught at NYU
G23.1201 — Earth Biology

G23.1073 — Plant Resources (part of team)

G54.2000 — Science Survey (Journalism Dept., part of team)

G12.1400 — Fundamentals of Energy and Geophysical Science I

G12.1401 — Fundamentals of Energy and Geophysical Science II

G12.1410 — Atmospheres and Oceans I

G12.1411 — Atmospheres and Oceans II

G12.2310 — Advanced Oceanography I

G12.2212 — Physical Climatology

G12.3204 — Problems in Energy Science I

G12.3205 — Problems in Energy Science II

G12.3208 — Problems in Environmental Science I

G12.3209 — Problems in Environmental Science II

G65.1093 — Patterns in Space and Time (Graduate Program in Liberal Studies)

External Affiliations:

Collaborative research on crop growth and development with Utah State University, NASA Ames Research Center, and NASA Kennedy Space Flight Center. Collaborations with many others, depending on topic.


Two NASA Summer Faculty fellowships at Ames Research Center and one at Johnson Space Center.

Selected Works:

Google Scholar profile

Publications in Archival Journals and Books

pdf versions of many of these, especially the more recent ones, can be accessed from my personal website: http://metapatterns.wikidot.com/members:tylervolk

Volk, T. It’s not the entropy you produce, rather, how you produce it, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 365, 1317-1322, 2010.

Volk, T. Thermodynamics and civilization: From ancient rivers to fossil fuel energy servants, Climatic Change, 95, 433-438, 2009.

T. Volk. How the biosphere works, in Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change, Biodepletion, and Earth Ethics in an Age of Crisis (eds: E. Crist and B. Rinker), The MIT Press, 2009, 27-40.

Volk, T. and Bloom, J.W. The use of metapatterns for research into complex systems of teaching, learning, and schooling, Part I: Metapatterns in nature and culture, Complicity: The International Journal of Complexity and Education, 4, 25-43, 2007.

Bloom, J.W. and Volk, T. The use of metapatterns for research into complex systems of teaching, learning, and schooling, Part II: Applications, Complicity: The International Journal of Complexity and Education, 4, 45-68, 2007.

Volk, T., Bloom, J.W., and J. Richards. Toward a science of metapatterns: Building upon Bateson’s foundation, Kybernetes: The International Journal of Cybernetics, Systems, and Management Sciences, 36, 1070-1080, 2007.

Volk. T. 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, 2007.

Volk, T. Real concerns, false gods. Nature, 440, 869-870, 2006. (Review of The Revenge of Gaia, by James Lovelock).

Volk, T. Hope for mind on earth. BioScience, 55, 1088-1090, 2005. (Review of Earth System Analysis for Sustainability, edited by Schellnhuber et al.)

Volk, T. Gaia is life in a wasteworld of by-products. In Scientists Debate Gaia, edited by S. H. Schneider et al., MIT Press, 27-36, 2004.

Schwartzman, D.W., and T. Volk. Does life drive disequilibrium in the biosphere? In Scientists Debate Gaia, edited by S. H. Schneider et al., MIT Press, 129-135, 2004.

Hoffert, M.I., et al., including T. Volk. Response letter, under heading of “Planning for Future Energy Resouces.” Science, 300, 582-583, 2003.

Volk, T. Natural selection, Gaia, and inadvertent by-products:
A reply to Lenton and Wilkinson's response. Climatic Change, 58, 13-19, 2003.

Volk, T. Seeing deeper into Gaia theory: A reply to Lovelock’s response. Climatic Change, 57, 5-7, 2003.

Volk, T. A river runs through it (A scientist’s brush with death renews his connection to all life). Science and Spirit, 14, 2 (Mar.-Apr.), 50-53, 2003.

Bloom, J.W. and Volk, T. The use of metapatterns as analytical, design, and conceptual frameworks. Pre-conference workshop, Annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching. Philadelphia. March 23, 2003. (Booklet, 72 pages.)

Cavazzoni, J., F. Tubiello, T. Volk, and O. Monje. Modeling the effect of diffuse light on canopy photosynthesis in controlled environments, ActaHorticulturae, 593, 39-46, 2002. Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Models for Plant Growth and Control in Greenhouses: Modeling for the 21st Century - Agronomic and Greenhouse Crop Models.

Hoffert, M.I., et al., including T. Volk. Advanced Technology Paths to Global Climate Stability: Energy for a Greenhouse Planet. Science, 298, 981-987, 2002.

Volk, T. Toward a future for Gaia theory. Climatic Change, 52, 423-430, 2002.

Volk, T. The cycling of materials by living systems. In Earth System Science (S. Guerzoni et al., eds.), Proceedings of International School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Universita degli Studi di Siena, 31-38, 2001.

Volk, T. Transformations between life and the global environment. In Earth System Science (S. Guerzoni et al., eds.), Proceedings of International School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Universita degli Studi di Siena, 39-42, 2001.

Volk, T., Forward to the book Writing the Natural Way (by Gabriele Rico), Tarcher/Putnam: New York, pp. xv-xvi, 2000.

Cavazonni, J., T. Volk, B. Bugbee, and T. Dougher, Phasic temperature control and photoperiod control for soybean using a modified Cropgro model, Life Support and Biosphere Science, 6, 273-278, 1999.

Tubiello, F.N., T. Mahato, T. Morton, J.W. Druitt, T. Volk, and B.D.V. Marino, Growing wheat in Biosphere 2 under elevated CO2: Observations and modeling, Ecological Engineering, 13, 273-286, 1999.

Volk, T., B. Bugbee, and F.N. Tubiello, Phasic temperature control appraised with the Ceres-wheat model, Life Support and Biosphere Science, 4, 49-54, 1997.

Tubiello, F.N., T. Volk, and B. Bugbee, Diffuse light and wheat radiation-use efficiency in a controlled environment, Life Support and Biosphere Science, 4, 77-85, 1997.

Cavazzoni, J., T. Volk, and G. Stutte, A modified Cropgro model for simulating soybean growth in controlled environments, Life Support and Biosphere Science, 4, 43-48, 1997.

Cavazzoni, J., and T. Volk, Assessing long-term impacts of increased crop productivity on atmospheric CO2, Energy Policy, 24, 403-412, 1996.

Volk, T., Considerations in miniaturizing simplified agro-ecosystems for advanced life support, Ecological Engineering, 6, 99-108, 1996.

Rampino, M. R. and T. Volk, Palaeozoic impact crater chain on the Earth?, Geophysical Research Letters, 23, 49-52, 1996.

Volk, T., B. Bugbee, and R.M. Wheeler, An approach to crop modeling with the energy cascade, Life Support and Biosphere Science, 1, 119-127, 1995.

Tubiello, F., C. Rosenzweig, and T. Volk, Interactions of CO2, temperature, and management practices: Simulations with a modified version of Ceres-wheat, Agricultural Systems, 49, 135-152, 1995.

Meleshko, G.I., Ye. Ya. Shepelev, M.M. Averner, and T. Volk, Biological Life Support Systems, Life Support and Habitability, Vol. 2 of Space Biology and Medicine, edited by F.M. Sulzman and A.M. Genin, AIAA, Washington, D.C., 357-394, 1994.

Volk, T., The soil's breath, Natural History, November, 48-54, 1994.

Schwartzman, D.W., S.N. Shore, T. Volk, and M. McMenamin, Self-organization of the earth's biosphere—geochemical or geophysiological?, Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere, 24, 435-450, 1994.

Volk, T., Time to reset the great count, EOS, 75, 439, 1994.

Volk, T., Re-setting the great count, Nature, 370, 244, 1994.

Volk T. and R. Keeling, Summary of workshop on interannual variations in the carbon cycle, The Global Carbon Cycle, edited by M. Heimann, Springer-Verlag, 579-581, 1993.

Schwartzman, D., M. McMenamin, and T. Volk, Did surface temperatures constrain microbial evolution?, BioScience, 43, 390-393, 1993.

Volk, T., Comments on bioprocessing in space, Enzyme and Microbial Technology, 15, 899-900, 1993.

Volk, T., Cooling in the late Cenozoic, Scientific Correspondence, Nature, 361, 123, 1993.

Volk, T., When climate and life finally devolve, News and Views, Nature, 360, 707, 1992.

Barlow, C., and T. Volk, Gaia and evolutionary biology, BioScience, 42, 686-693, 1992.

Volk, T. and H. Cullingford, Crop growth and associated life support for a lunar farm, The Second Conference on Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century, edited by W. W. Mendell, NASA Publication CP-3166, 705 pp., 525-530, 1992.

Volk, T., and B. Bugbee, Modeling light and temperature effects on leaf emergence in wheat and barley, Crop Science, 31, 1218-1224, 1991.

Schwartzman, D. W., and T. Volk, Biotic enhancement of weathering and surface temperatures on Earth since the origin of life, Global and Planetary Change section of Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 90, 357-371, 1991.

Schwartzman, D. W., and T. Volk, Biotic enhancement of earth habitability, Encyclopedia of Earth System Science, Academic Press, Volume 1, 387-394, 1992.

Kump, L. R., and T. Volk, Gaia's garden and BLAG's greenhouse: Global biogeochemical climate regulation, Scientists on Gaia, edited by S. H. Schneider and P. J. Boston, MIT Press, 191-199, 1991.

Schwartzman, D. W., and T. Volk, Geophysiology and habitable zones around sun-like stars, Bioastronomy: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life—The Exploration Broadens, edited by J. Heidmann and M. J. Klein, Springer-Verlag, 155-162, 1991.

Caldeira, K., M. R. Rampino, T. Volk, and J. C. Zachos, Biogeochemical modeling at mass extinction boundaries: atmospheric carbon dioxide and ocean alkalinity at the K/T boundary, Extinction Events in Earth History, edited by E. G. Kauffman and O. H. Walliser, (Springer-Verlag, Berlin), 333-345, 1990.

Barlow, C., and T. Volk, Open living systems in a closed biosphere: A new paradox for the Gaia debate, BioSystems, 23, 371-384, 1990.

Bretherton, F. P., K. Bryan, and J. D. Woods, with contributors: J. Hanson, M. Hoffert, X. Jiang, S. Manabe, G. Meehl, S. C. B. Raper, D. Rind, M. Schlesinger, R. Stouffer, T. Volk, and T. M. L. Wigley, Time-dependent greenhouse-gas induced climate change, Climate Change: The IPCC Scientific Assessment, edited by J. T. Houghton, G. J. Jenkins, and J. J. Ephraums, for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge U. Press, Cambridge, 173-194, 1990.

Volk, T., Shaping Nature, The Sciences, vol. 30, 45-50, May/June 1990.

Volk, T., Effect of equatorial upwelling on atmospheric CO2 during the 1982-83 El Niño, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 3, 267-279, 1989.

Volk, T., and J. D. Rummel, The case for cellulose production on Mars, The Case For Mars III; Strategies for Exploration - Technical, Vol. 75, American Astronautical Society Science and Technology Series, pp. 87-94, 1989.

Volk, T., and R. Bacastow, The changing patterns of ∆pCO2 between ocean and atmosphere, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 3, 179-189, 1989.

Schwartzman, D. W., and T. Volk, Biotic enhancement of weathering and the habitability of Earth, Nature, 340, 457-460, 1989.

Volk, T., Sensitivity of climate and atmospheric CO2 to deep-ocean and shallow-ocean carbonate burial, Nature, 337, 637-640, 1989.

Volk, T., and J. D. Rummel, Transpiration during life cycle in controlled wheat growth, Advances in Space Research, 9, No. 8, (8)61-(8)64, 1989.

Volk, T., Effect on atmospheric CO2 from seasonal variations in the high latitude ocean, Advances in Space Research, 9, No. 8, (8)153-(8)157, 1989.

Volk, T., Rise of angiosperms as a factor in long-term climatic cooling, Geology, 17, 107-110, 1989.

Volk, T., and Z. Liu, Controls on CO2 sources and sinks in the earthscale surface ocean: temperature, nutrients, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 2, 73-89, 1988.

Rampino, M. R., and T. Volk, Mass extinctions, atmospheric sulphur and climatic warming at the K/T boundary, Nature, 332, 63-65, 1988.

Volk, T., and J. D. Rummel, Mass balances for a biological life support system simulation model, Advances in Space Research, 7, No. 4, (4)141-(4)148, 1987.

Rummel, J. D., and T. Volk, A modular BLSS simulation model, Advances in Space Research, 7, No. 4, (4)59-(4)67, 1987.

Volk, T., Feedbacks between weathering and atmospheric CO2 over the last 100 million years, American Journal of Science, 287, 763-779, 1987.

Volk, T., Limitations on relating ocean surface chlorophyll to productivity, Advances in Space Research, Vol. 7, No. 2, (2)137-(2)140, 1987. (also, reprinted in Modeling in the Global Ocean Flux Study, U.S. GOFS Planning Report Number 4, U.S. GOFS Planning Office, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass., 1987.)

Gaffin, S. R., M. I. Hoffert, and T. Volk, Nonlinear coupling between surface temperature and ocean upwelling as an agent in historical climate variations, Journal of Geophysical Research, 91, 3944-3950, 1986.

Volk, T., and M. I. Hoffert, Ocean carbon pumps: analysis of relative strengths and efficiencies in ocean-driven atmospheric CO2 changes, in The Carbon Cycle and Atmospheric CO2: Natural Variations Archean to Present, edited by E. T. Sundquist and W. S. Broecker, pp. 99-110, Geophysical Monograph 32, American Geophysical Union, Wash., D.C., 1985.

Volk, T., Majesty of the sphere, The Sciences, vol. 25, 46-50, 1985.

Volk, T., Multi-property modeling of the marine biosphere in relation to global carbon and climate cycles, Ph. D. thesis (University Microfilms #84-21570), New York University, New York, 1984.

Volk, T., Performance of tornado wind energy conversion systems, Journal of Energy, 6, 348-350, 1982.

Updated on 01/23/2014