Saturday, November 23, 2013

Blink of an Eye

The Earth continues to move, erupt, collide and change shape. Some of these changes are gradual and imperceptible, while others are sudden and catastrophic.

A new island appeared in the Pacific Ocean this week from an exploding underwater volcano. Will this island of ash and rock last long enough to be charted on a map? Will it be subdued and eroded by pounding waves? We don't know. But the story unfolds with or without us.

What once were warm clear oceans are now the world's tallest mountains:
"When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, they set them in snow over the skeletons of creatures that had lived in a warm clear ocean that India, moving north, blanked out. Possibly as much as 20,000 feet below the sea floor, the skeletal remains had turned into rock. This one fact is a treatise in itself on the movements of the surface of the earth."
John McPhee, Annals of the Former World
1977 Soviet Military Map of Mount Everest Region [Scale 1:200,000]

Much of Earth's ongoing phenomena occur beyond the time scale of a human lifespan, but evidence of gradual and sudden changes abound.

The Earth is orders of magnitude older than any of the living creature that clings to it like a life raft. The Earth is much more resilient than living organisms.
"The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles…hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages…And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!

We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Maybe a little Styrofoam…The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas."

George Carlin, comedian and social critic.

Human activity adversely impacts Earth's biosphere. The human species is a recent addition to the 3.5 billion year old biosphere, yet human activity, chiefly power generation and waste products, degrades the quality of water and air at an alarmingly accelerated rate. Whether human impacts can be stemmed or reversed remains a grave concern.

Life in the biosphere is fragile and short-lived. On a geologic time scale, species come into existence and vanish in the blink of an eye.
"If by some fiat, I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence; this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone."
John McPhee, Annals of the Former World