Life, Temperature, and the Earth: The Self-organizing Biosphere

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Columbia University Press, 1999 - Science - 241 pages
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The idea that living things and the atmosphere, oceans, and soils comprise an interactive, self-regulating system -- the Gaia concept -- was first proposed nearly thirty years ago. Since then researchers have been seeking new connections between life and the global environment. David Schwartzman contributes to that search by examining how the Earth's biosphere regulates itself over geologic time. Emphasizing long-term geologic trends -- not the short-term perturbations that have received so much media attention (e.g., the so-called greenhouse effect), the author presents and elucidates his theory of biospheric evolution.

Life, Temperature, and the Earth updates and modifies important aspects of the Gaia hypothesis in light of geochemical, geophysical, mathematical, and paleontological data that were either ignored or unavailable at the time the hypothesis was developed. Schwartzman argues that the Earth's climatic temperature has been biologically regulated amidst the backdrop of variable volcanic outgassing and an evolving sun. The key to this regulation -- discussed here in depth -- has been the progressive increase in life's promotion of weathering on land over geologic time. The book is the first to take note of strong evidence for much higher temperatures prior to about two billion years ago and their role in constraining the evolution of microbes and delaying the emergence of complex multicellular life.

Schwartzman sets the stage by introducing his theory of biospheric evolution and outlining the development of the Gaia concept during the 1980s and 1990s. He then presents a systematic exposition of the weathering process, discussing the habitability of the Earth over geologic time and the role of such abiotic factors as tectonics and the carbon geodynamic cycle in climatic evolution. The final third of the book turns to a reinterpretation of the surface temperature history of the Earth, positing a much warmer Precambrian Earth surface than conventionally believed and discussing the implications of this fact to evolutionary biology and bioastronomy (the search for life elsewhere in the universe).

Determining the history of climate and investigating the self-organization of the biosphere, Life, Temperature, and the Earth explores the very foundations of environmental science and illuminates the evolution of life itself.

 

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Contents

Climatic Evolution From Homeostatic Gaia to Geophysiology
1
The Biogeochemical Cycle of Carbon
15
Faint Young Sun Paradox and Climate Stabilization
32
Weathering and Its Biotic Enhancement
47
Weathering From Theory and Experiment to the Field
66
Quantifying the Biotic Enhancement of Weathering and Its Implications
80
Surface Temperature History of the Earth
99
Selforganization of the Biosphere
157
Alien Biospheres?
179
References
197
Index
239
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About the author (1999)

Edward D. berkowitz is professor of history and public policy and public administration at George Washington University. He is the author of eight books and the editor of three collections. During the seventies he served as a staff member of the President's Commission for a National Agenda, helping President Carter plan for a second term that never came to be.

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