The Respiration of Earth in Permaculture

Permaculture Designers Manual



Section 8.21 –

The Respiration of Earth in Permaculture

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All of the skin and organs of the earth breathe; it is a regular respiration; the “diaphragm” or energy for this may be provided by the moon tides in water, earth, or air.

Locally, the filling up of soil by rainwater forces an exhalation of air; the drying-out an inhalation.

Fast winds disturb boundary layers, create low pressure and soil exhalation; slow winds and high pressures force inhalation.

Millions of earth animals open breathing tubes, and arrange them (for their own sake) to force an exchange between the atmosphere and the waters, the soils, or sea-sands in which they live.

Water is as much breathed as air.

Deeper respirations come from deeper flows and fissures, and radon gas or methane seeps out from the earth.

When the earth itself expands, great flows inward and outward must occur through the multitudinous fissures that open up in rigid sediments.

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This earth respiration transports and transforms fluids and their associated loads, solutes, states, and ionic potential from earth to atmosphere to ocean, setting up the potentials that create thunderstrms or hurricanes.

We are of this same respiration. The burrows of spiders, gophers, and worms are to the soil what the alveoli of our lungs are to our body.

We can assist this essential respiration by assisting life and natural processes in soils.

If you kill off the prairie dogs, there will be no one to cry for rain.

(Navajo warning)

Amused scientists, knowing that there was no conceivable relationship between prairie dogs and rain, recommended the extermination of all burrowing animals in some desert areas planted to rangelands in the 1950’s·… in order to protect the roots of the sparse desert grasses.

Today the area (not far from Chilchinbito, Arizona) has become a virtual waste­ land. ” Fierce run-off, soil compaction, and lack of fresh seedbed have carried the grasses away (Barre Toelken, in Indian Science Quest 78, Sept/Oct).

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Using prairie dog burrows as water sinks, and causing water run-off to flood down them, thus germinating stored underground seed, had the opposite effect on the Page ranch, now a dryland rehabilitation exhibit of the University of Arizona.

Here, prairie dogs and a new and thriving patch of permanent bunch grasses thrive in an area where overgrazing, ploughing, or soil compaction has ruined other grasslands.

Water under the ground has much to do with rain clouds.

If you take the water from under the ground, land will dry up.

<Hopi elder in Tellus, Fall ’81)


At Black Mesa, near the Four Corners area of the Hopi Indians (USA), a scientist studying thunder­storm occurrence (using computer analysis) noticed an unusual number or storms occurred in that area.

She was told by the Hopi of the area where the earth breathed, emitting air as the moon affected the groundwater tides.

This air proved to be heavily charged with negative ions, which may have initiated the thunderstorms and consequent rain.

Of the breathing of the earth there has been little study, although it was regarded as a known phenomena to tribes people.


The earth must breathe, by at least these processes:

The movement of burrowers in their tunnels;

The movement of groundwater by tides or replenishment of aquifers (often seen in wells, especially near coasts and lakes);and

The evaporation of moisture from soil surfaces by the sun.

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