The Zen of Venn



Art connects science through symbols that reduce complex concepts into lucid images. Among the most widely used art forms for demonstrating the integrated nature of science is the Venn diagram [Venn, 1971]. Introduced in the late 19th century, Venn diagrams—which consist of intersecting, concentric, or separated circles—can be used to illustrate logical relationships between diverse entities, concepts, and phenomena.

The Venn diagram is a powerful descriptive tool for researchers, teachers, and students who are interpreting the complexities, ambiguities, and uncertainties of the interacting processes that influence the Earth system. On the Earth, matter and energy are transferred through a complex suite of reservoirs that include the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere. Venn diagrams can be used to simplify relationships as with thesea-level intersection of the cryosphere and hydrosphere or the greenhouse-gas intersection of the atmosphere and the biosphere. Identifying the intersections among different spheres is by individual design and elaboration, especially when the human dimensions are considered.