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VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies

1. Geosphere, Hydrosphere, Atmosphere

Fagherazzi, Sergio. Self-organization of Tidal Deltas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 105/18692, 2008. A Boston University earth scientist studies the Ganges river delta in India, and Kikori delta in the Gulf of Papua to find that they adopt a spatially scale-free scale indicative of critical behavior.

Tidal deltas are characterized by a dendritic network of distributaries that transport water and sediments to the ocean. Here, I show that the distributaries self-organize to uniformly redistribute the tidal prism across the entire delta system. The 2 opposite mechanisms of channel formation by avulsion and channel abandonment drive the entire delta toward a critical state at which every channel is close to the silting threshold. Under these conditions the delta reaches self-organized criticality, with changes of its planimetric channel distribution occurring across several spatial scales. (18692)

Fallah, Bijan, et al. Emergence of Global Scaling Behaviour in the Coupled Earth-Atmosphere Interaction. Nature Scientific Reports. 6/34005, 2016. Fallah, and Sahar Sodoudi, Free University of Berlin, with Abbas Ali Saberi, University of Tehran, who might be cast as systems meteorologists or climatologists, find the universal self-similar geometries to be equally present in world and regional weather phenomena.

Scale invariance property in the global geometry of Earth may lead to a coupled interactive behaviour between various components of the climate system. One of the most interesting correlations exists between spatial statistics of the global topography and the temperature on Earth. Here we show that the power-law behaviour observed in the Earth topography via different approaches, resembles a scaling law in the global spatial distribution of independent atmospheric parameters. We report on observation of scaling behaviour of such variables characterized by distinct universal exponents. More specifically, we find that the spatial power-law behaviour in the fluctuations of the near surface temperature over the lands on Earth, shares the same universal exponent as of the global Earth topography, indicative of the global persistent role of the static geometry of Earth to control the steady state of a dynamical atmospheric field. Such a universal feature can pave the way to the theoretical understanding of the chaotic nature of the atmosphere coupled to the Earth’s global topography. (Abstract)

Ferreira, Douglas, et al. Long-range Correlation Studies in Deep Earthquakes Global Series. Physica A. Online August 27, 2020. We highlight this entry by Instituto Federal do Rio de Janeiro seismologists because it not only considers a realm of internal quakes at depths of 50 miles, but proceeds to characterize them by way of multiplex network theories. As the second quote notes, the same dynamic scale-invariance found in every other realm is present in this basic geological domain. As alluded to here, a self-organized criticality can also be detected. And as I log in papers about neural and symbiotic phases, a 2020 perception of an independent mathematic source force which is in universal effect becomes strongly evident. For more see a 2016 book Methods of Statistical Physics Applied to Seismology from the Viewpoint of Complex Networks by this extended group, and earlier Self-Organized Criticality and Earthquakes at arXiv:0711.1750.

In the present paper we have conducted studies on seismological properties using worldwide data of deep earthquakes (70 km), considering events with magnitude greater than 4.5. We have addressed this new realm of seismic activity by a complex networks perspective which reveals scale-free and small-world features, strengthening the use of a time window model to construct epicenters. The results for deep events were further analyzed using Nonextensive Statistical Mechanics and corroborate with those found for the shallow quakes, since the connectivity distribution also follows a q-exponential distribution and the scaling behavior is present. Our findings thus reinforce correlations between earthquakes and the criticality of the seismological system. (Abstract)

Several phenomena in nature exhibit characteristics of complex systems such as nonlinear dynamics, fractal dimensions, power law distributions and long-range spatiotemporal memory, where the earthquakes being one example. Theories of complex systems have been applied to many different areas of knowledge for a long time, such aseconomics, computer science, mechanical engineering, biology and chemistry. In the last decades, works have used complex systems theories to perform studies on spatiotemporal properties of seismicity. In that sense, we can highlight the important approach of using complex networks concepts, which provides powerful procedures to analyse the interactions and correlations between elements of complex systems, giving efficient descriptions about the dynamics of such systems. (1)

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)

The science of pattern formation, a physically motivated study of spatio-temporal patterns, and an attempt to explain how, why and when they arise, was formalized during the second half of the twentieth century. Feedback can do much more than amplify or control a signal, and as understanding of nonlinear dynamical systems grew, unexpected universal features of these systems were found. (2) The Earth is not in thermodynamic equilibrium. Heat flows from the molten core to the crust, through a convecting mantle. Winds blow, rain falls and mountains erode, as the Sun’s energy is processed and re-radiated to the cooler background of space. Life happens, and in doing so, changes the world. The means that shaped the geography that we see today are dynamic, complex, non-equilibrium and nonlinear. These are the natural conditions in which to expect self-organization, and the patterns that can be found tell us about the physics of these systems. (2)

The presence and continued existence of tidal morphologies, and in particular of salt marshes, is intimately connected with biological activity, especially with the presence of halophytic vegetation. Here, we review recent contributions to tidal biogeomorphology and identify the presence of multiple competing stable states arising from a two-way feedback between biomass productivity and topographic elevation. Hence, through the analysis of previous and new results on spatially extended biogeomorphological systems, we show that
multiple stable states constitute a unifying framework explaining emerging patterns in tidal environments from the local to the system scale. Furthermore, in contrast with traditional views we propose that biota in tidal environments is not just passively adapting to morphological features prescribed by sediment transport, but rather it is ‘The Secret Gardener’, fundamentally constructing the tidal landscape. The proposed framework allows to identify the observable signature of the biogeomorphic feedbacks underlying tidal landscapes and to explore the response and resilience of tidal biogeomorphic patterns to variations in the forcings, such as the rate of relative sea level rise. (Da Lio, et al Abstract)

MPI for Dynamics and Self-Organization. Turbulence in clouds, neuronal fireworks in the brain, the physics of individual cells and the flow of water and oil through porous stone – these, and other particularly complex systems, are the focus of the research carried out by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization. Here, “complex” means that many individual systems combine to form a whole, the dynamics of which cannot necessarily be identified through the behaviour of the individual systems. Scientists say that these systems “organise themselves”. This holds true for the interaction of neurons in the brain (for example during learning) as well as for the numerous swirls that combine to form a turbulent cloud. There is reason to hope that a better understanding of the latter will enable a more accurate prediction of the future influence of clouds on global climate.

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)

Complex systems commonly arise through the interaction of numerous individual components, or “agents” with their environment. In such systems, agents are intrinsically able to adopt combinatorially large numbers of different states, yet only a relatively small fraction of these configurations are observed as a consequence of selection rules. (1712) Stochastic processes may influence the specific outcomes of some selective events, but selection is guided by physical and chemical principles and thus, by definition, is not random. (1712)

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)

The lithosphere (from the Greek λίθος [lithos] for "rocky") is the rigid outermost shell (crust, mantle) of a rocky planet. The pedosphere (from the Greek πέδον [pedon] soil, earth) is the outermost layer of the Earth that is composed of soil and subject to soil formation processes.

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)

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