ATTENTION: The Boards will be closed permanently on May 28th, 2014. Posting will be disabled on April 28th, 2014. More Info

The Gaia Hypothesis

caltrek

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 0

Report this Jul. 14 2007, 12:28 pm

This thread can be seen as a sort of campanion thread to that about global warming. I am creating it as a separate thread because the topic is distinct enough to warrant a more focused attention.

Essentially, the Gaia hypothesis, developed by James Lovelock, is that that there are various feedback mechanisms at work in th earth's biosphere that, over time have resulted in a relative stability of the earth's climate, or at least have had a huge impact on the physical environment. Part of this idea builds on the theory that at one point in the biological history of the planet, anaerobic organisms dominated the bioshphere. These were organisms that did not need oxygen as part of their life cycle. At some point in the earth's development, organisms appeared that generated oxygen as a by product. At first, this "pollution" of the planet reached such a high level that it actually adversely affected the ability of many species to survive. ¿Conversely, many other species began to find ways to adapt to this new environment. So, today we have this oxygen - carbon dioxide loop that is an important factor in establishing the earth's temperature.

Modern technologies and their emmision by-products are affecting this balance. Other organisms may adapt to these changes, much as microrganisms adapted to the oxygen rich environment, but more complicated organisms such as humans may find it much harder to survive. At least that is a major implication of Lovelock's work.

I was just interested if anybody else was familiar with this line of reasoning and had any opinions about it. ¿

Another aspect of this forum that I like is it seems to have a somewhat slower pace that 10 Forward, so I am willing to be patient to get responses.

Kirky333

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 3787

Report this Jul. 14 2007, 12:41 pm

I remember that hypothesis, and you're entirely right, the earth was dominated by anaerobes that generated Oxygen as a by-product, however, plants seem to have evolved before aerobic animals but at a time where there was oxygen building up in the atmosphere, so plants can use both carbon dioxide to create energy (photosynthesis) and use oxygen (photorespiration) but photorespiration is very wasteful of energy and such.

So animals evolved then and they use the oxygen released by anaerobes and in return create CO2, so the plants and cyanobacterias can breathe. Effectively, the Gaia Hypothesis while probably accurate for the early history of the Earth before plant evolution may not work in modern times as the oxygen and carbon dioxide should balance out in nature.

Then Humans fudged everything up by burning fossil fuels and cutting down trees and plants, so that throws the balance out of whack, and since the Gaia hypothesis applies only in nature, not human interference, it wouldn't take effect until human interference is stopped, ie: when we destroy our atmosphere for ourselves and we can't breathe it anymore.

Phew. :cool:

caltrek

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 0

Report this Jul. 14 2007, 4:02 pm

One thing I like about the Gaia hypothesis is that it is relatively easy to explain, at least by the standards of modern scientific theories, and yet it can lead to rather fruitful discussions. Take Kirky333's observation about plants. In hy haste to oversimplify the introduction to this thread, I left out that part of the equation and Kirky quite rightly brought it in to the discussion.  Any other comments? Don't be shy.

Kirky333

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 3787

Report this Jul. 14 2007, 4:10 pm

I thought your introduction was alright, caltrek. It gets complicated as a hypothesis when you go into conflicting accounts of the history of earth and newer info about the way things were.

I don't know that much about the Gaia hypothesis though, I only touched on it in a few lectures, I'd love to see someone add to this!

:D

caltrek

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 0

Report this Aug. 10 2007, 11:24 pm

Quote
"The entire range of living matter on Earth from whales to viruses and from oaks to algae could be regarded as constituting a single living entity capable of maintaining the Earth's atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts...[Gaia can be defined] as a complex entity involving the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback of cybernetic systems which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet."
Dr James Lovelock -  Gaia - A New Look at Life on Earth

The Gaia Hypothesis is the theory is that living organisms and inorganic material are part of a dynamic system that shape Earth's biosphere, in  Lynn Margulis's words, a "super organismic system"  The earth is a self-regulating environment; a single, unified, cooperating and living system - a superorganism that regulates physical conditions to keep the environment hospitable for life Evolution therefore is the result of cooperative not competitive processes.


The Origin of the Gaia Hypothesis
It is an ironic fact that a theory about life on Earth should begin from an exploration of outer space.

In the mid-1960's, Dr James Lovelock was approached by  NASA, who asked him for help in searching for life on Mars.  In 1965, Lovelock proposed some physical tests for determining whether Mars held life or not.  He proposed that a top-down view of the entire planet be employed. The test would analyze the composition of the planet's atmosphere. If it held no life, the planet should have an atmosphere close to the chemical equilibrium state, as determined by chemistry and physics. If the planet held life, the metabolic activities of life-forms would result in an atmosphere far from the equilibrium state.

Together with scientist Dian Hitchcock, Lovelock  examined the atmospheric data for the Martian atmosphere and found it to be in a state of stable chemical equilibrium, while the Earth was shown to be in a state of extreme chemical disequilibrium. The two scientists concluded that Mars was probably lifeless; almost a decade later the Viking 1 and 2 landings conformed their conclusion.

In that same year, Lovelock began to think that such an unlikely combination of gases such as the Earth had, indicated a homeostatic of the Earth biosphere to maintain environmental conditions conducive for life, in a sort of cybernetic feedback loop, an active (but non-teleological) control system.  By the end of the 1960's, Lovelock had definitively organized his theory.  The novelist William Golding, Lovelock's neighbor, suggested he call the control system Gaia, after the ancient Greek Earth Goddess.  First on his own in 1972, and then later in 1973 with American microbiologist Lynn Margulis, Lovelock formally proposed the idea of Gaia as a control system.  The name for the complex system of climate control has remained "Gaia" since then, and in 1979 his book,  Gaia - a new look at life on Earth first presented the Gaia hypothesis to the wider public.  

The nature of Gaia
"The name of the living planet, Gaia, is not a synonym for the biosphere. The biosphere is defined as that part of the Earth where living things normally exist. Still less is Gaia the same as the biota, which is simply the collection of all individual living organisms. The biota and the biosphere taken together form part but not all of Gaia. Just as the shell is part of a snail, so the rocks, the air, and the oceans are part of Gaia.  Gaia...has continuity with the past back to the origins of life, and extends into the future as long as life persists.  Gaia, as a total planetary being, has properties that are not necessarily discernible by just knowing individual species or populations of organisms living together.

The Gaia hypothesis...suppose(s) that the atmosphere, the oceans, the climate, and the crust of the Earth are regulated at a state comfortable for life because of the behavior of living organisms. Specifically, the Gaia hypothesis said that the temperature, oxidation state, acidity and certain aspects of the rocks and waters are at any time kept constant, and that this homeostasis is maintained by active feedback processes operated automatically and unconsciously the biota. Solar energy sustains comfortable conditions for life.  The conditions are only constant in the short term and evolve in synchrony with the changing needs of the biota as it evolves. Life and its environment are so closely coupled that evolution concerns Gala, not the organisms or the environment taken separately."


URL=http://www.kheper.net/topics/Gaia/Gaia_Hypothesis.htm]Gaia Hypothesis[/URL]

We have to take care of Gaia so that it will take care of us.

caltrek

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 0

Report this Aug. 10 2007, 11:25 pm

h92o

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 1328

Report this Aug. 12 2007, 6:16 am

Kirky333

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 3787

Report this Aug. 12 2007, 3:20 pm

Nifty.

hotafin

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 407

Report this Aug. 29 2007, 6:14 am

The thing with the Gaia hypothesis is, that it has a lot of truth in it. There are indeed many feedback mechanisms, that work against climatic change. The real problem starts when these feedbacks can no longer work. When these cushioning effects break down, it can cause radical variations in the climate.

Kirky333

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 3787

Report this Aug. 29 2007, 2:47 pm

Quote (hotafin @ Aug. 28 2007, 7:14 am)
The thing with the Gaia hypothesis is, that it has a lot of truth in it. There are indeed many feedback mechanisms, that work against climatic change. The real problem starts when these feedbacks can no longer work. When these cushioning effects break down, it can cause radical variations in the climate.

Eg: Global Warming, less heat is lost to space, which screws up the delicate balance.  :logical:

caltrek

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 0

Report this Aug. 30 2007, 11:05 pm

One of the themes that I remember Lovelock touching upon relates to his ideas regarding homoestatic mechanisms with the biosphere. By that, I mean feedback mechanisms that help keep the planet within a certain range of temperatures, in acidic balance etc. As we tear the fabric apart, we inherit the "duty" of managing the earth's equilibrium. If we fail to do so, we act at our own peril. So, we need to better understand those processes and let them work as they were "designed" to by the forces of evolution.

It is easy to see why free market ideologues would object to this as it suggests that planning above and beyond the free market is needed. So often, they simply conclude that environmentalists that express such concerns are closet socialists. Yet, Lovelock comes at the question from an entirely different angle. What it suggests is that we should put pre-existing biases aside a look at the world with a fresh point of view. If we are to solve the problems ahead the answers will probably not fit neatly into any capitalist, socialist, or other traditionalist way of looking at things.

StatetheNatureoftheEmerge
ncy

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 2550

Report this Sep. 01 2007, 8:42 pm

Quote (caltrek @ Aug. 30 2007, 11:05 pm)
One of the themes that I remember Lovelock touching upon relates to his ideas regarding homoestatic mechanisms with the biosphere. By that, I mean feedback mechanisms that help keep the planet within a certain range of temperatures, in acidic balance etc. As we tear the fabric apart, we inherit the "duty" of managing the earth's equilibrium. If we fail to do so, we act at our own peril. So, we need to better understand those processes and let them work as they were "designed" to by the forces of evolution.

It is easy to see why free market ideologues would object to this as it suggests that planning above and beyond the free market is needed. So often, they simply conclude that environmentalists that express such concerns are closet socialists. Yet, Lovelock comes at the question from an entirely different angle. What it suggests is that we should put pre-existing biases aside a look at the world with a fresh point of view. If we are to solve the problems ahead the answers will probably not fit neatly into any capitalist, socialist, or other traditionalist way of looking at things.

Well, let's take it a little further. According to this theory, it is the sum of all parts of life on the planet, correct? A closed environment... One huge biosphere. Other than the occasional meteor storm, there's negligible intake from elsewhere in the universe, or solar system, unless you count light and solar radiation from the sun.

Given that fact, the use of materials such as fossil fuels shouldn't really affect Gaia. It's plant material that has been converted to something else. It's part of life that is being re-used in a different form. In effect, it's recycling.

Thoughts on that?

hotafin

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 407

Report this Sep. 02 2007, 11:54 am

By burning away the fossil fuels we would "restore" a state of atmosphere, that was unknown for gaia for over 500 million years. Add to that, that it happens in a few hundred years at best, its frightening.

Kirky333

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 3787

Report this Sep. 02 2007, 4:46 pm

Quote (StatetheNatureoftheEmergency @ Aug. 31 2007, 9:42 pm)
Well, let's take it a little further. According to this theory, it is the sum of all parts of life on the planet, correct? A closed environment... One huge biosphere. Other than the occasional meteor storm, there's negligible intake from elsewhere in the universe, or solar system, unless you count light and solar radiation from the sun.

Given that fact, the use of materials such as fossil fuels shouldn't really affect Gaia. It's plant material that has been converted to something else. It's part of life that is being re-used in a different form. In effect, it's recycling.

Thoughts on that?

No, Gaia is really more of a process by which the various systems of energy operate on Earth.

Earth isn't a closed environment since we get light and heat from the Sun (as well as comets, meteors as you said), but that is hardly negligable, it's where our entire energy is derived from somehow or other.

But burning fossil fuels at the rate humanity currently does is overloading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases such as carbon monoxide, dioxide and methane. Gaia can cope with small increases in these or adjust life on Earth to adapt over time, however it's happening too quickly for the biosphere to compensate for it. What we get is a huge temperature shift causing extremes in weather  (like all these high level hurricanes and serious droughts).

caltrek

GROUP: Members

POSTS: 0

Report this Sep. 03 2007, 11:41 am

Quote
Given that fact, the use of materials such as fossil fuels shouldn't really affect Gaia. It's plant material that has been converted to something else.


Gaia is affected by the burning of fossil fuels. All chemical processes involve rearranging basic atoms into different combinations making up different chemicals. Your analogy is a bit like saying that carbon monoxide shouldn't really affect humans in a closed environment because it is just another form of recycling carbon and oxygen. What things get "converted" to is very important. Also, remember that Gaia and human beings are two different things. The way that Gaia copes with increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may (probably will) not be beneficial to humans, even though it might be argued that it is just Gaia in a different form.

Basically, Kirky333's answer is right on correct.

Recently logged in

Users browsing this forum: King B IX

Forum Permissions

You cannot post new topics in this forum

You cannot reply to topics in this forum

You cannot delete posts in this forum