VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies
1. Geosphere and Atmosphere
Ghanbarian, Behzad and Allen Hunt, eds. Fractals: Concepts and Applications in Geosciences. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2017. UT Austin and Wright State University environmental physicists provide a comprehensive tutorial upon this now widely accepted perception of how nature’s iterations are especially evident in all manner of geological, riverine, and atmospheric phenomena.
Goehring, Lucas. Pattern Formation in the Geosciences. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. 371/20120352, 2013. A Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization theorist introduces an issue to document after some two decades of study that earthly phenomena of “subaqueous bedforms, microbial mats, coastline shapes, salt marshes, surface terrains, drainage networks, and submarine channel systems” and every other case provide a strong exemplary confirmation of these spontaneous nonlinear complexity. In regard, as many other fields, a “universality” can now be averred whence the same shapes and systems repeatedly arise in every instance. See in this volume “Self-Organized Rhythmic Patterns in Geochemical Systems” by Ivan L’Heureux, (search) and “The Secret Gardner: Vegetation and the Emergence of Biogemorphic Patterns in Tidal Environments” by Cristina Da Lio, et al, see Abstract below.
Pattern formation is a natural property of nonlinear and non-equilibrium dynamical systems. Geophysical examples of such systems span practically all observable length scales, from rhythmic banding of chemical species within a single mineral crystal, to the morphology of cusps and spits along hundreds of kilometres of coastlines. This article briefly introduces the general principles of pattern formation and argues how they can be applied to open problems in the Earth sciences. (Abstract)
Hazen, Robert, at al. Mineral Evolution. American Mineralogist. 93/1693, 2008. A Wikipedia definition: “A mineral is a naturally occurring solid formed through geological processes that has a characteristic chemical composition, a highly ordered atomic structure, and specific physical properties.” Eight authors variously from the Carnegie Institution, Geological Survey of Canada, University of Arizona, Johns Hopkins University, and the Smithsonian achieve a major reconception of the temporal appearance of such substances that is newly keyed to an earthly evolutionary sequence. Ten stages from original chondrites to Phanerozoic skeletal biominerals are set within three eras: planetary accretion, crust and mantle reworking (plate tectonics), and bio-mediated mineralology. The most important cause for this burgeoning from some initial 250 types to over 4,000 today is said to be earth’s surface oxygenation associated with biological activity. The paper goes on to allude to an unfolding evolution guided by innate complex system dynamics. The article has received several notices in the press as an historic advance.
The stages of mineral evolution arise from three primary mechanisms: (1) the progressive separation and concentration of the elements from their original relatively uniform distribution in the pre-solar nebula; (2) an increase in range of intensive variables such as pressure, temperature, and the activities of H2O, CO2, and O2; and (3) the generation of far-from-equilibrium conditions by living systems. (1693)
Hergarten, Stefan. Self-Organized Criticality in Earth Systems. Berlin: Springer, 2002. A University of Bonn geologist finds such dynamic phenomena to avail in many realms of a truly nonlinear geosphere. A table of contents sample next cites examples.
Fractals - Fractal distributions: Is the Earth's Surface Fractal?- Recognizing Power-Law Distributions - Do Cumulative Size Distributions Tell the Truth? - Self-Affine Time Series - Brownian Motion - Persistence, Stationarity, and Predictability.- Deterministic Chaos - Linear and Non-Linear Systems - Limit Sysles and Strange Attractors - Self-Organized Criticality - Critical-Point Phenomena - Universality.- Earthquakes and Stick-Slip Motion - The Fractal Character of Earthquakes - Efficient Simulation of the OFC Model.- Landslides - Triggering Mechanisms and Driving Forces - On Predicting Slope Stability.- Drainage Networks - Fractal Properties of Drainage Networks
Hohenegger, Christel, et al. Transition in the Fractal Geometry of Arctic Melt Ponds. Cryosphere Discussions. 6/2161, 2012. In this online journal of the European Geosciences Union, University of Utah and Dartmouth University mathematicians and geologists, led by Utah’s Ken Golden, quantify another instance of self-similar geometries in manifest evidence everywhere. (Galileo would say tell me about it, go read nature as an edifying book.) Indeed, the paper goes on to recognize such a universality arises from statistical physics phenomena. This exemplar was also noted by Natalie Wolchover (search) in her survey “In Mysterious Pattern, Math and Nature Converge.”
During the Arctic melt season, the sea ice surface undergoes a remarkable transformation from vast expanses of snow covered ice to complex mosaics of ice and melt ponds. Sea ice albedo, a key parameter in climate modeling, is determined by the complex evolution of melt pond configurations. In fact, ice-albedo feedback has played a major role in the recent declines of the summer Arctic sea ice pack. However, understanding melt pond evolution remains a significant challenge to improving climate projections. By analyzing area-perimeter data from hundreds of thousands of melt ponds, we find here an unexpected separation of scales, where pond fractal dimension D transitions from 1 to 2 around a critical length scale of 100 m2 in area. Pond complexity increases rapidly through the transition as smaller ponds coalesce to form large connected regions, and reaches a maximum for ponds larger than 1000 m2 whose boundaries resemble space filling curves with D ≈ 2. These universal features of Arctic melt pond evolution are similar to phase transitions in statistical physics. (Abstract)
Hunt, Allan and Stefano Manzoni. Networks on Networks: The Physics of Geobiology and Geochemistry. Online: Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2015. A Wright State University, Ohio, physicist and a Stockholm University ecologist show how the new theories of complex systems applies well to life’s deepest origins and realms. Chapters survey percolation theory, transport methods, allometric scales, vegetative growth, and so on. As a consequence, a final section gives a strong endorsement of the Gaia hypothesis, an admission which is imperative for Earth system viability studies.
At least two remarkable coincidences in the structure and composition of the Earth’s surface exist, both in the flow rates and transport types that rule the soil, and in the remarkable chemical composition of the atmosphere. Taken together, these two coincidences raise the possibility that the Earth’s skin is not just like a living organism, but actually is one. In order for this hypothesis to make any sense, it would be necessary for a wide range of single-celled organisms, presumably bacteria, to communicate so closely as to constitute a composite organism. Horizontal transport of DNA (i.e. between unrelated organisms) is known to be a fundamental component of bacterial evolution, meaning that a deep level of communication exists in such single-celled organisms that is outside human understanding and perhaps outside our ability to classify. (8-4)
Ibanez, Juan, et al. The Fractal Mind of Pedologists. Ecological Complexity. 6/3, 2009. A down and dirty revolution in soil science is “in the land” as earth’s crustal envelope, the “pedosphere,” becomes scientifically legible via the same nonlinear system geometries that grace all of nature and society.
Recent studies show that the USDA soil taxonomy has the same mathematical structure as some biological ones that conform to physical laws that dictate and optimize information flow in user friendly retrieval systems. In this paper we demonstrate that the multifractal nature of the USDA soil taxonomy is strongly linked with conventional soil survey practices. (286) Fractal objects and power laws are scale invariant mathematical constructs, and the products prepared by experts are also fractal in many aspects. This process could be the reason that maps devoid of legends and other information have a high resemblance and information content, and with independence of scales, they provide a clear fractal signature. (286) In summary, the systems used by soil surveyors and soil taxonomists as a whole have fractal-like structures. We now believe that developing and using fractal structures are subconscious activities of the human brain reflecting both nature and our way of processing and representing information. (286)
Ibanez, Juan, et al. The Spatial Distribution of Soils across Europe. Ecological Complexity. 6/3, 2009. A contribution from Spain to the epic discovery that earth’s crustal layer exhibits the same organic topologies that distinguish and inform life and peoples.
Our analysis shows a remarkable scaling behavior of soil distribution and strongly suggests the fractal nature of pedotaxa distribution across Europe. (294) The pedosphere – the porous boundary that is formed by soil on land masses – is involved in most of the biogeophysical and chemical interactions between the biosphere, the hydrosphere, the lithosphere and the atmosphere. (294)
Karimova, L., et al. Fractal and Topological Dynamics for the Analysis of Paleoclimatic Records. Physica A. 373/737, 2006. A team from Kazakhstan, England, and Finland composed of a geologist, mathematicians, and climate scientists find that data readings from ice cores and tree rings of past North Atlantic climes exemplify a natural self-similarity. What kind of creation then, one might wonder, achieves its own retrospective description. Whom is doing this and for what purpose?
Paleoclimatic proxy records are analyzed with the help of multifractal formalism, wavelet analysis and topological dynamics methods to reveal scaling features as well as their nonlinear dynamics and interrelationship. (737)
Kleidon, Axel, et al. Thermodynamics, Maximum Power, and the Dynamics of Preferential River Flow Structures at the Continental Scale. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences. 17/225, 2013. An Interactive Open Access Journal of the European Geosciences Union. As the Abstract explains, MPI, Biogeochemistry, and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, scientists proceed to articulate living nature’s constant riverine form and flow. See also in this journal series Biogeosciences, Climates of the Past, Earth Surface Dynamics, and Nonlinear Processes in Geophysics, for similar understandings of common, ever recurrent, dynamic vitalities.
The organization of drainage basins shows some reproducible phenomena, as exemplified by self-similar fractal river network structures and typical scaling laws, and these have been related to energetic optimization principles, such as minimization of stream power, minimum energy expenditure or maximum "access". Here we describe the organization and dynamics of drainage systems using thermodynamics, focusing on the generation, dissipation and transfer of free energy associated with river flow and sediment transport. We argue that the organization of drainage basins reflects the fundamental tendency of natural systems to deplete driving gradients as fast as possible through the maximization of free energy generation, thereby accelerating the dynamics of the system. This effectively results in the maximization of sediment export to deplete topographic gradients as fast as possible and potentially involves large-scale feedbacks to continental uplift. We illustrate this thermodynamic description with a set of three highly simplified models related to water and sediment flow and describe the mechanisms and feedbacks involved in the evolution and dynamics of the associated structures. We close by discussing how this thermodynamic perspective is consistent with previous approaches and the implications that such a thermodynamic description has for the understanding and prediction of sub-grid scale organization of drainage systems and preferential flow structures in general. (Abstract)
Klinger, Lee. Gaia and Complexity. Schneider, Stephen, et al, eds. Scientists Debate Gaia. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004. Noted more in A Living Planet, the paper also discusses self-organizing, fractal landscapes.
L’Heureux, Ivan. Self-Organized Rhythmic Patterns in Geochemical Systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. 371/20120356, 2013. In this issue on Pattern Formation in the Geosciences (Goehring above), a University of Ottawa “condensed matter physicist” details how rock formations, such as “periodic precipitation of pyrite bands,” express the same dynamical topologies and behaviors as everywhere else in nature. In regard, as an increasing number of similar reports confirm, as strongly implied, it can be realized that these recurrent phenomena spring from universal, “intrinsic” material spontaneities.
Chemical oscillating patterns are ubiquitous in geochemical systems. Although many such patterns result from systematic variations in the external environmental conditions, it is recognized that some patterns are due to intrinsic self-organized processes in a non-equilibrium nonlinear system with positive feedback. In rocks and minerals, periodic precipitation (Liesegang bands) and oscillatory zoning constitute good examples of patterns that can be explained using concepts from nonlinear dynamics. (Abstract)