Freeze and evolve

01/07/2010

Updating The Chilling Stars and Magic Universe

When cosmic rays freeze the world, you’d better evolve

2100 million year-old multicellular fossil found in Gabon. Image: Kaksonen CNRS

Transforming the story of life on the Earth is a report in Nature today about multicellular creatures more than 2 billion years old, at a time when single-celled bacteria supposedly reigned supreme. Fossils you can pick up with your fingers, found in Gabon, West Africa, are far, far older than the multicellular animals that become detectable about 600 million years ago (Ediacaran period) and conspicuous 542 million years in the “Cambrian explosion”. The age is fixed with remarkable precision at 2070 to 2130 million years.

Exterior and interior of a fossil imaged by micro-tomography. Image: El Albani & Mazurier, CNRS

A team of 21 experts from France, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Germany and Belgium make the report. The lead author is Abderrazak El Albani, at the University of Poitiers, France. He tells Agence France Press that “More than 250 specimens have been found so far. They have different body shapes, and vary in size from one to 12 centimetres.”

What excites me about the discovery is that here was a far-reaching evolutionary response to the rise of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere beginning more than 2000 million years ago. It occurred in the aftermath of a planet-wide freeze for which there is a cosmic explanation.

Chapter 6 in The Chilling Stars includes the story of “Snowball Earth” events. Here are some extracts.

In 1986, George Williams and Brian Embleton in Australia used the magnetism in grains of iron oxide dropped from ancient ice to show that they were released within a few degrees of the Equator. A few years later, Joseph Kirschvink of the California Institute of Technology confirmed this result in magnetism associated with other rock formations in Australia produced by ice action, and well dated as 700 million years old. He called it ‘bullet-proof evidence’.

It now seems clear that these extensive, sea-level deposits … were formed by widespread continental glaciers which were within a few degrees of the equator. The data are difficult to interpret in any fashion other than that of a widespread, equatorial glaciation.”

Kirschvink invented the name Snowball Earth for that dire climatic state. You have to visualise ice sheets, glaciers and frozen seas even at the Equator itself. The degree of ocean freezing is still debated. Some investigators imagine vistas of ice a kilometre thick or more, others prefer a ‘slushball’picture with drifting sea ice and icebergs. Either way the impact on life was severe.

Evidence from all the world’s continents unpacks into about three separate snowball episodes in the interval 750 to 580 million years ago. Worms that survived by scavenging the sea-bed detritus evolved the body-plans that made possible the explosion of animal life mentioned in the previous chapter, when the world became reliably warmer again in the Cambrian Period that started 542 million years ago.

Those cold Neo-Proterozoic times, as geologists call them, were not the only occasion of such radical events involving ice and evolution. By the end of the 20th century, geologists had amassed evidence from South Africa, Canada and Finland that confirmed two Snowball Earth episodes between 2,400 and 2,200 million years ago, in Palaeo-Proterozoic times. Our planet was then only half its present age.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

About The Cloud Mystery

01/05/2010

About The Cloud Mystery

Since 1998 the Danish film producer/director Lars Oxfeldt Mortensen has filmed the work of Henrik Svensmark and his team repeatedly, even when no programme was in production, to build up a remarkable historical record of discovery in progress. Svensmark has appeared in two resulting Mortensen TV programmes:

  • The Climate Conflict, about the role of the Sun in climate change, 2001
  • The Cloud Mystery, about the effect of cosmic rays on clouds and climatic history, 2008. (Nigel Calder was script consultant.)

Mortensen Film’s description of The Cloud Mystery

Svensmark views low clouds from a mountain in Tenerife

‘Our clouds take their orders from the stars,’ says the Danish scientist Henrik Svensmark. That’s the amazing and provocative discovery reported here. Most experts thought the idea was crazy.

The film records ten years of effort by the small team in Copenhagen that, in the end, solved the mystery of how the Galaxy and the Sun interfere in our everyday weather.

It’s provocative because Dr Svensmark’s revelations challenge the belief of most climate theorists that carbon dioxide has been the main driver of global warming. As a result he has faced never-ending opposition.

But strong support for the cosmic view of climate change comes from astronomer Nir Shaviv and geologist Jan Veizer. In the film they tell how the Galaxy has governed the Earth’s ever-changing climate over 500 million years.

The Cloud Mystery is aimed at a wide audience. Astonishing pictures from our Galaxy, the Sun, and cloud formations are mixed with spectacular animations to simplify the science. Comments by astronomers, geologists and climate experts convey their sense of adventure, and give scientific weight to the discoveries presented. The audience is taken on a trip around the world, where scientists from Denmark, Israel, Canada, the USA, and Norway contribute to this exciting story.

Linking all the discoveries is the non-stop rain of cosmic rays – energetic particles from exploded stars that battle with the Sun’s magnetic field to reach the Earth. Central in the story is an experiment in a Copenhagen basement. It showed how cosmic rays help to make chemical specks in the air on which water drops condense to make clouds.

The story concludes that clouds are the main driver of climate change on Earth.

The documentary follows Henrik Svensmark in his struggle to find the physical evidence of a celestial climate driver. The film demonstrates that science can be a rough place to be if you are in opposition to the established “truth”.

The Cloud Mystery (52-minutes) was co-produced with Arte France and has been distributed for broadcasting to eleven countries: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Israel and Iran. Efforts to place it with a UK broadcaster have been unsuccessful so far.

Latest broadcasts: 2 April 2010 Germany ARTE 21:45 France ARTE 22:05

Buy The Cloud Mystery DVD http://thecloudmystery.com/The_Cloud_Mystery/Get_the_DVD.html

Preview clip http://thecloudmystery.com/The_Cloud_Mystery/Introduction.html

Some scenes in the film can be see on ClimateClips http://climateclips.com/

The Cloud Mystery website http://thecloudmystery.coml

Mortensen Film website, with contact details http://mortensenfilm.dk/

Mortensen’s ClimateClips http://climateclips.com/


Sequence

01/05/2010

The Svensmark hypothesis

Sequence of discoveries

The connection between cosmic rays and the cloud cover observed by satellites was announced at a space science meeting in 1996 and published in the following year (Henrik Svensmark & Eigil Friis-Christensen 1997). The report’s title called the discovery the “missing link” because it solved a big puzzle for climate researchers, as to how the Sun could exert an impact on climate that empirically exceeded by a wide margin the effect of variations in solar brightness measured by satellites. Read the rest of this entry »


Svensmark and Shaviv explain

01/05/2010

Henrik Svensmark and Nir Shaviv explain their ideas about cosmic rays and climate in one of Lars Oxfeldt Mortensen’s ClimateClips

http://climateclips.com/archives/271