Appreciating Earth's Evolution

Who says understanding Earth’s Evolution is irrelevant?

Sadly all too many.  

{I reread this the other day and it came across a bit too harsh - so here's a kinder gentler version.  May 22, 2019 }

Who says understanding Earth’s Evolution is irrelevant?

Sadly all too many.

I often hear people, not just the religious with their thoughtless rejection and outright contempt for our Earth and her story, but also rational educated people who superficially accept the notion of evolution, yet who seem to have little curiosity about Earth's Pageant of Evolution.

Too many dismiss the need to learn anything about it as though evolution were pointless. All the while I’m thinking, but evolution created this world we depend on, why isn’t that worth embracing?

The general disinterest just doesn’t seem right. Especially considering what an amazingly beautiful, action packed, complex, mysterious and absolutely relevant story Earth’s deep history has to offer us.

From it’s earliest formation with that improbable, but oh so perfectly aimed, collision that blasted away Earth’s first atmosphere, ‘liquified’ the planet, then reformed that mess into our amazingly advantageous coupled Earth and Moon arrangement, without which complex animals probably could never have evolved on Earth.

On a microscopic level it started with the changing brew of elements and molecules that kept on playing with each other, always trying to find advantageous pairings. Those select advantageous pairings lead to cascading sequences. Thanks to time, lots of time, some of those pairings started repeating themselves in a new way and very simple life was created.

That’s what evolution is, time, learning, changing, sharing, cooperating, consuming, and so on; folds within folds of accumulating harmonic complexity flowing down the cascade of time.

First the unchanging elemental atoms that combined into ever more complex and interesting molecular bundles. Then combinations of molecules becoming an ever richer assortment of minerals. Then life joined the party bringing along a few tricks.

Life figured out how to ingest some of those newly evolving minerals and rearrange them into yet more unique minerals that could then be used for building body parts.

Life also somehow figured out how to split water molecules into their individual atom’s thus starting the rise of free oxygen. A very rare thing because oxygen is one of the most reactive atoms around. Meaning mineral evolution was supercharged once oxygen atoms were available to bind with elements and minerals. 

Life kept on making more oxygen, with time oxygen ran out of minerals and elements such as iron to bind with, it then started to accumulate in the atmosphere.

That led to some real losers, still only oxygen had the “reducing” properties with the potential to power complex organisms requiring intensive metabolic activity. Meaning the losers were quite simple organisms, while the stage was being prepared for something much grander.

Life, that is biology, kept busy getting along and figuring out how to do the things it did better, since that’s what got passed down in greater quantity. Thus the first few billion years of Earth unfolded with little to see on the outside, but much experimentation going on at the fine detail level. 

Life was busy discovering biological tricks, engineering the molecular components that would, over the course of billions of years, learn to fit together with other components, eventually enabling complex life to blossom.

But, Biology couldn’t have done it without her partner Geology! Earth’s geology includes our moon which probably played a vital role in kick starting plate tectonics, which kick started continent formation.

Tectonics became evolution’s forge. You know, with all that bulldozing, mixing, and pressing, and baking, and volcanic activity, and so on.

We’ve also learned that the moon started orbiting rather close in to Earth and in the beginning the days were as short as 5 hours. Try to imagine those first billion years with truly humongous relentless tidal waves racing fast as jets, mowing down early volcanoes as they emerged from the oceans.

Of course as the moon pulled away from Earth, the days became incrementally longer while the tides became shorter. Our moon continues pulling away from Earth, though now it’s slowed down to about an inch and half a year.

The volcanoes were equally relentless, continental shelves and mountains slowly built up upon huge tectonic plates that floated atop Earth’s softer mantel.  They were jostled around our globe driven by deep down convection currents. Which destined them to smash into each other and create yet more volcanoes and land formations, and gases for our atmosphere and so on.

Try to imagine those first nearly four billion years, there were no plants, no roots, no soil, only wind, rain, rivers, and the pounding waves - erosion, rocks, sand, rivers and ocean and those relentless waves.

Then some 600/700 million years ago, Earth’s rotational wobble aligned with continental movements and ocean currents to produce a couple glacial periods that covered the continents, turning our planet into a Snowball Earth. Periods when glaciers pulverizing massive quantities of rocks on the continents. This then flowed into the seas enriching them with mineral salts and more building blocks for life. Over the oceans ice reached all the way to the equator.

Then some really wild things started happening. For one, the simple single celled life, that had any sense, kept moving towards the open water and sunlight. See what’s going on here? Though glaciers covered the oceans, it was never 100% covered. There were always currents that came together, cracks and leads and narrow water channels where sunlight still accessed ocean waters. 

These single-celled critters of every variety were increasingly concentrated, meaning competition and opportunities for those who learned fastest and adapted bestest.

All the while, deep in the belly of Earth the kilometer and more worth of glaciers was acting as insulation holding in the heat that was rising up from the core.  The weight of the ice also acted as a pressure lid. Meaning volcanic activity was stifled, while heat from Earth’s deep interior was accumulating and volcanic pressures were increasing.

Something had to give. For the rest of this story, pick up next month’s Four Corners Free Press, a bargain at 50¢.


{I've also submitted this to the FourCornerFreePress since it has been too long since my last column over there and I been wanting to write about something fun anyways.  Next month I'll add the second half}
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Here is a list of videos that do a wonderful job of describing fundamental aspects of our evolution and why we should care above it:

January 6, 2016
{1} Our Global Heat and Moisture Distribution Engine

January 9, 2016
{2} Co-evolution of Minerals and Life | Dr Robert Hazen

January 14, 2016
{3} Evolution of Carbon and our biosphere - Professor Hazen focuses on the element Carbon

January 23, 2016
{4} Evolution-Considering Deep Time and a Couple Big Breaks

February 6, 2016
{5a} The Most Beautiful Graph on Earth - A. Hessler

February 7, 2016
{5b} Earth's Earliest Climate - By Angela Hessler

February 14, 2016
{6} Evolution of Earth's Atmosphere - easy version

February 18, 2016
{7} Our Global Heat and Moisture Distribution Engine, visualized

February 19, 2016
{8} Atmospheric Insulation Explained - appreciating our climate engine
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“Earth’s Carbon Cycle”
Robert Rohde – Published on May 22, 2019
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December 17, 2105
Reflecting on our failure to appreciate the weather. 
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March 13, 2015
Memories, an appreciation of science
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Citizenschallenge, why are you an Earth Centrist?

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All it takes is a thorough understanding of climate science, that requires doing some serious homework.  Still the conception of our global heat and moisture distribution’s evolution throughout our planet’s life story isn’t that hard to grasp, specially with today’s learning tools and animations. 


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