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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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III. Ecosmos: A Revolutionary Organic Habitable UniVerse

2. Earth Alive: A Bio-Eco-Ovo Sphere Sustains Her/His Self

    The Global Biosphere as seen from a Polar Orthographic Projection by NASA’s SeaWiFS satellite. The purpose of this “Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor” Project is to provide quantitative data on ocean bio-optical properties to the Earth systems science community. Educational information and additional images can be accessed on the website: www.seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov. Compared to other planets in the solar system, the presence of life is evident from zones of liquid water, green vegetation indicative of a temperate climate, and a variety of landscapes vital for evolution to proceed. Another indicator is a conducive atmosphere of enough oxygen (~20%) for flora and fauna but not too much which would be too combustible.


Earth’s biosphere is now known to have regulated itself for some billion years in a homeostatic fashion so as to sustain conducive atmospheric and geochemical conditions for life’s survival and evolution. Since the 1970's, the British geochemist James Lovelock, with Lynn Margulis and colleagues, have provided theoretical and experimental support for living systems as a planetary phenomenon. Lovelock's country neighbor, the author William Golding, suggested the name of the earth goddess Gaia. The concept has received intense scrutiny, often rejection, over past decades but has become understood and accepted as an innovative, useful model.

The section also contains references for the vital field of Earth systems science and Earth’s formative course. It is given a distinct place in an ecosmology chapter so as to identify and appreciate most favored habitable bioworlds such as our own whereupon a sentient, intelligent species can begin to observe, record, self-select and continue forth. The title seeks to convey its biological, ecological and indeed an ovular, children-bearing essence.

2020: After some decades of critical doubt, worries and just unfamiliarty, a biospheric, life-sustaining, superorganic global envelope has become the basic guide for Earth systems science. This Gaian process is seen to influence and control Earth’s mineral surface, atmospheric compositions, and more so to maintain a favorable, billion year milieu for life’s evolutionary development to our retrospective sapiensphere observance.

Alvarez, Walter. A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves. New York: Norton, 2016.

Arenes, Alexandra, et al. Giving Depth to the Surface: An Exercise in the Gaia-Graphy of Critical Zones. Anthropocene Review. Online June, 2018.

Arney, Giada, et al. The Pale Orange Dot: The Spectrum and Habitability of Hazy Archean Earth. Astrobiology. 16/11, 2016.

Hermida, Margarida. Life on Earth is an Individual. Theory in Biosciences. Online February, 2016.

Jabr, Ferris. The Earth is just as Alive as You Are. New York Times. April 21, 2019.

Kleidon, Axel. How does the Earth System Generate and Maintain Thermodynamic Disequilibrium. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. 370/1012, 2012.

Langmuir, Charles and Wally Broecker. The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Lenton, Timothy, et al. Selection for Gaia across Multiple Scales. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Online July, 2018.

Nicholson, Arwen, et al. Alternative Mechanisms for Gaia. Journal of Theoretical Biology. Online August, 2018.

Ruse, Michael. The Gaia Hypothesis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Steffen, Will, et al. The Emergence and Evolution of Earth System Science. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment. 1/1, 2020.

Meyers, Stephen and Alberto Malinverno. Proterozoic Milankovitch Cycles and the History of the Solar System. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 115/6363, 2018. University of Wisconsin and Columbia University geoscientists expand Earth’s environs to include a dynamic spacescape and temporal depth to its earliest origin. See also Exo-Milankovitch Cycles II: Climates of G-dwarf Planets at arXiv:1805.00283.

Periodic variations in Earth’s orbit and rotation axis occur over tens of thousands of years, producing rhythmic climate changes known as Milankovitch cycles. The geologic record of these climate cycles is a powerful tool for reconstructing geologic time, for understanding ancient climate change, and for evaluating the history of our solar system, but their reliability dramatically decreases beyond 50 Ma. Here, we extend the analysis of Milankovitch cycles into the deepest stretches of Earth history, billions of years ago, while also reconstructing the history of solar system characteristics, including the distance between the Earth and Moon. Our results improve the temporal resolution of ancient Earth processes and enhance our knowledge of the solar system in deep time. (Significance)

Milankovitch cycles describe the collective effects of changes in the Earth's movements on its climate over thousands of years. The term is named for Serbian geophysicist and astronomer Milutin Milanković. In the 1920s, he hypothesized that variations in eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession of the Earth's orbit resulted in cyclical variation in the solar radiation reaching the Earth, and that this orbital forcing strongly influenced climatic patterns on Earth. (Wikipedia)

Alvarez, Walter. A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves. New York: Norton, 2016. In a novel volume, the eminent UC Berkeley geologist joins this popular union of human temporal appearance with a cosmic evolutionary rooting. We log in at the same time as David Christian’s Big History and David Grinspoon’s The Earth in Human Hands. But the three otherwise fine works reflect a tacit mindset, or lack thereof, that this grand cosmos to culture vista yet results from random contingency or chance, a lottery without occasion or destiny, not to occur elsewhere or again.

One in a million doesn’t even come close. Not when we’re talking about the odds that you would happen to be alive today, on this particular planet, hurtling through space. Almost fourteen billion years of cosmic history, over four billion years of Earth history, a couple million years of human history, the rise and fall of nations, the unbroken string of generations necessary to lead to you―it’s staggering to consider. Yet behind everything in our world, from the phone in your pocket to even the force of gravity itself, lies a similarly grand procession of highly improbable events. This panoramic viewpoint has captured the imagination of historians and scientists alike, and together they’ve created a new field―Big History―that integrates traditional historical scholarship with scientific insights to study the full sweep of our universe and its past. Famed geologist Walter Alvarez―best known for the impact theory explaining dinosaur extinction―has championed a science-first approach to Big History, and A Most Improbable Journey is one of the first Big History books to be written by a scientist rather than a historian. (Publisher)

Arenes, Alexandra, et al. Giving Depth to the Surface: An Exercise in the Gaia-Graphy of Critical Zones. Anthropocene Review. Online June, 2018. We note this entry by a landscape planner A. Arenes, the sociologist of science Bruno Latour and geochemist Jerome Gaillardet, as a visual exercise to take in the whole bio-regulated Earth as some manner of solar heated, life bearing, people evolving, preciously fertile abode.

Foregrounding the importance of soil and more generally the surface of the Earth – what is now often called the critical zone (CZ) – remains very difficult as long as the usual planetary view, familiar since the scientific revolution, is maintained. In this joint effort coauthored by a landscape architect, a historian of science and a geochemist, we propose what is called in history of drawing an anamorphosis, a change in perspective that allows us to shift from sites located in the geographic grid, to a representation of events located in what we call a Gaia-graphic view. We claim that such a view is much better suited to situate the new actors of the Anthropocene because it brings pride of place to the CZ. (Abstract edits)

Arney, Giada, et al. The Pale Orange Dot: The Spectrum and Habitability of Hazy Archean Earth. Astrobiology. 16/11, 2016. In the thrall of our global collaboration, an astroscientist team from the USA, UK, and France cast back some 2.6 billion years to reconstruct ancient climates, photochemistry, and especially fractal atmospheric hazes and clouds. Whom then is this personsphere progeny arising out of the mists to be able to learn this? As if a late blossom or birth, what does it say about what manner of organic object an Earth might be?

Benner, Steven, et al. Planetary Biology. Science. 296/864, 2002. As “a civilization-wide enterprise,” the global expanse of life and its human phase is reconstructed akin to a developing, cognizant organism.

Consequently, one can imagine a comprehensive model of life on Earth combining paleontology, geology, structural biology, systems biology, and genomics, that captures history and function from molecule to the planet. (867)

Braakman, Rogier, et al. Metabolic Evolution and the Self-Organization of Ecosystems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Online March 27, 2017. An MIT environmentalist, Earth scientist, and a biologist construct an extensive synthesis of diverse organisms and their bioregions as they proceed to dynamically organize and prosper. Life’s long development takes on an anatomic and physiological guise as these innate, formative forces gain theoretical credence.

Understanding what drives self-organization in complex systems and how it arises is a major challenge. We addressed this challenge using dominant oceanic photosynthetic and heterotrophic microbes as a model system. Reconstructing the metabolic evolution of this system suggests that its self-organization and self-amplification were coupled and driven by an increasing cellular energy flux. Specifically, the evolution of cells steadily increased their metabolic rate and excretion of organic carbon. We describe how this increases cellular nutrient uptake and thereby ecosystem biomass. The release of organic carbon, in turn, promotes positive feedbacks among species that reinforce this evolutionary drive at the ecosystem level. We propose the evolutionary self-organization of oceanic microbial ecosystems contributed to the oxygenation of Earth. (Significance)

Metabolism mediates the flow of matter and energy through the biosphere. We examined how metabolic evolution shapes ecosystems by reconstructing it in the globally abundant oceanic phytoplankter Prochlorococcus. To understand what drove observed evolutionary patterns, we interpreted them in the context of its population dynamics, growth rate, and light adaptation, and the size and macromolecular and elemental composition of cells. This multilevel view suggests that, over the course of evolution, there was a steady increase in Prochlorococcus’ metabolic rate and excretion of organic carbon. These observations lead us to propose a general theory relating metabolic evolution to the self-amplification and self-organization of the biosphere. We discuss the implications of this framework for the evolution of Earth’s biogeochemical cycles and the rise of atmospheric oxygen. (Abstract excerpt)

Bunyard, Peter, ed. Gaia in Action: Science of the Living Earth. Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1996. Scientific and philosophical papers explore this holistic, ecological hypothesis. The authors look toward the Russian geoscientist Vladimir Vernadsky as its original founder earlier in the 20th century whose theories of the inherent emergence of living matter informs the volume.

Chao, Keng-Hsien, et al. Lava Worlds: From Early Earth to Exoplanets. arXiv:2012.07337. In our late day of global collaborations and knowledge accumulation, by way of 400 references, University of Hawaii astronomers including Eric Gaidos can proceed to reconstruct and quantify how our fittest biosphere came to have its certain hyperactive crustal substance. The retrospective endeavor considers thermal energies, atmospheric material transport, tidal forces, gravity effects and more to attain both a conceptual version for Earth, and a model which can then be applied to vicarious exoworlds.

The magma ocean concept was conceived to explain the geology of the Moon, global oceans of silicate melt could be a "lava world" phase of rocky planet accretion, and persist on planets around other stars. Magma oceans could be a defining stage in forming a core, a crust, initiation of tectonics, and of an atmosphere. This review describes the energetic basis of magma oceans and lava lakes on Earth and Io and their evidence throughout the Solar System. It describes research on theoretical and observed exoplanets that could host extant lava worlds and ways to detect and characterize them. (Abstract excerpt)

Crist, Eileen and H. Bruce Rinker, eds. Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change, Biodepletion, and Earth Ethics in an Age of Crisis. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010. This hypothesis is not in peril, rather it is the biosphere due to an unchecked onslaught from a consumptive civilization. The usual proponents from James Lovelock himself, still fiesty at ninety, Lynn Margulis, Tyler Volk, Stephan Harding, Timothy Lenton, Connie Barlow, and an array of ecologists and philosophers who weigh in with the latest impressions. The editors introduction is “One Grand Organic Whole.” A salient contribution is “Principles of Gaia Governance” by University of Washington political scientist Karen Litfin.

Dauphas, Nicolas. The Isotropic Nature of the Earth’s Accreting Material through Time. Nature. 541/521, 2017. The University of Chicago geophysicist reports new findings about how our home bioplanet formed by gradual additions of moon, and meteorite size masses, which were similar in chemical composition. This work, along with a companion article Ruthenium Isotopic Evidence for an Inner Solar System Origin of the Late Veneer (mantle) in the same issue, merited notice as Earth’s Building Blocks (541/468).

Dobretsov, Nikolay, et al, eds. Biosphere Origin and Evolution. New York: Springer, 2008. Guided by the foundational influence of Vladimir Vernadsky, along with their integral proclivity, Russian geoscience tends to the whole biosphere as the proper subject of study. This latest volume from various Institutes of Geophysics, Paleontology, Cytology, Microbiology, and so on, views “living matter” as quite engaged in the achievement of a global “homeostatic” system. The sciences of self-organizing complexity are somewhat mechanically employed to explore life’s hierarchy from a proposed “astrocatalysis” all the way to scientific civilization.

Doolittle, W. Ford. Making Evolutionary Sense of Gaia. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. Online May, 2019. The veteran Dalhousie University biologist has long disavowed this hypothesis of a steady self-regulating biosphere. It just does not square with or be explained by standard Darwinian selection. However as this vital theory has steadily grown by way of robust study and application, the author offers a novel rationale, much to his credit, as to how this presence is indeed possible.

The Gaia hypothesis in a strong and frequently criticized form assumes that global homeostatic mechanisms have evolved by natural selection favoring the maintenance of conditions suitable for life. Traditional neoDarwinists hold this to be impossible in theory. But the hypothesis does make sense if one treats the clade that comprises the biological component of Gaia as an individual and allows differential persistence – as well as differential reproduction – to be an outcome of evolution by natural selection. Recent developments in theoretical and experimental evolutionary biology may justify both maneuvers. (Abstract)

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