Nature Blog Network

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Accretionary Wedge #3: Between a Rock and Squishy Face, Geology and Life

That is our sample size, our replicate number with 0 degrees of freedom. If you believe the most popular estimates, Earth is ~4.6 billion years old. For a long time only rock existed once the planet cooled. Out of rock came life. Perhaps not literally, but only certain raw materials were present to work with: Nitrogen, Oxygen, inorganic Carbon, Hydrogen, Sulfur. Perhaps metals provided the catalyst, perhaps the Flying Spaghetti Monster reached down to bless our planet with His noodly appendage. The answer isn't clear, but I can guarantee its written in the rocks.

Geology has had an intimate relationship with biology, a long term romance spanning at conservative estimate around 3 billion years. As the disciplines of each are concerned, they were inseparable until the mid-19th century. Both were included with the modern sciences and maths as the study of Natural History, a subset of Theology. Some might say that the discipline of Geology was born with the work of James Hutton and Alfred Gottleib Werner in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Later on with the work of Charles Lyell, which heavily influenced Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Geology became a subject to study in its own right regardless of other subdisciplines of Natural History. Several years after which Biology was separated from Medicine and Natural History with the work of Darwin and Thomas Huxley and many others that followed into the 20th century.

Life exists, establishes and persists with geology's permission. Natural disasters can wreak havoc wiping generations of establishment and millenia of adaptation and diversity. Yet out of the ashes rises the phoenix and life reestablishes and re-adapts, and modifies the geological environment. Lichens break down rock into soil, plants establish their roots and suck out minerals and add organic carbon, microorganisms and meiofauna recycle and mobilize nutrients in the soil, animals enrich the soil both while living and dead. In the ocean, microscopic organisms extract calcium and silica to form tiny houses. These fall to the ocean depths as they die. After several thousands of years, this ooze layers on top of itself hardening and combining with weathered rock debris to form the substrate of Earth's most extensive habitat, the abyssal plain. Life may exist by geology's consents, but with a price.

The submissions received for this edition vary widely on the theme but are all enjoyable reads! For any new readers to the Accretionary Wedge, it is a geology-themed carnival started a couple months ago. Click on the link in the last sentence to find out more about it and consider submitting articles and hosting future editions.

Like me, Brian from Clastic Detritus has to write his dissertation. We can't just blog our lives away right? It also doesn't pay very well, or at all... But he was kind enough to take a break and submit an article on trace fossils he has found while doing his research. Check out the monster Ophiomorpha!

Also blogging on dissertation research, I present the introduction to my thesis proposal in the first part of a week long series of Dissertation Blogging as I prepare for my comprehensive exams in less than 2 weeks (I have to keep reminding myself). Prepare to be amazed by hydrothermal vents at back-arc basins!!

Chris from Zoogeomorphology Brilliant Mediocrity avoided talking about his thesis research, but captures the essence of the theme posting how life interacts with and modifies its environment using examples from beavers and whales.

Chris #2 from Highly Allochthonous, already completed his dissertation, takes a "grand and sweeping look at Geology and Life" and discusses how the air breathe became breathable in a BPR3-certified article.

Christopher (not to be confused with a Chris) from the Catalogue of Organisms highlights beautiful New Zealand serpentine soils and the plants the establish there. In an earlier post, he discusses a recent Nature paper on continental collisions with this loverly quote:
"Great chunks of the planet's surface get ripped up by colliding masses of rock bigger than all imagining, at scales at which living organisms just become negligible."
In a related post from earlier this year, brought to my attention by Yami from Green Gabbro, Joseph from the blog Science, AntiScience and Geology discusses research suggesting that the geochemical influx from the building of Gondwana may have triggered the Cambrian Explosion. Unfortunately, it seems seems these geologists may have disregarded some important biological information

Brian from the newly sexed up Laelaps, professes his love of squishy things and waxes beautifully and poetically on Aldo Leopald, the Book of Job, and Charles Darwin.

Julia at the Ethical Palaeontologist uses volcano farts as a segway segue into a discussion of volcanism and the public perception of climate change.

From the very cleverly titled All My Faults Are Stress Related, Kim ponders the granitic soil and its properties that make those oh so delicious blueberries grow there and be so... delicious!

Neil of Microecos reminds us to take a close look around us in public buildings. Fossils are everywhere in architecture and monuments!

Although Harold at Ontario-Geofish *claims* it happened to a friend, he discusses why one should go the emergency room and not try to solve medical problems with beer, especially urinary tract infections. Though not scientific, I thought there were lessons to be learned for field researchers in there.

Thats all for for edition #3 of the Accretionary Wedge. Next month's Wedge will be hosted at GoodSchist and please go the Accretionary Wedge page to submit ideas for the next and further editions.


  1. One small typo. My website isn't zoogeomorphology, that is only the title of that post. ;-)

  2. Hi chris, sorry about that. It actually says zoogeomorphology on the banner as well as the post title from the link you sent me. When I clicked on the banner though it turned into brilliant mediocrity.

  3. great posts. it's 'segue', by the way, not 'segway'

  4. nice collection of posts...sometimes carnivals have so many it's overwhelming...this is a readable amount (for me).

    And thanks again for hosting.

  5. Thanks Kevin, this was an excellent theme - and it was nice to see the squishy-o-philes contributing.

  6. You are right Kevin. I hadn't thought of that.


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