Wednesday, February 17, 2016

{3} Evolution of Carbon and our biosphere - Professor Hazen focuses on the element Carbon

This third installment of Considering our Global Heat and Moisture Distribution Engine series will be featuring a second Professor Robert Hazen talk.  In it he retraces the same ground as the previous lecture, but with a focus on the element carbon which turns out to be an outrageously interesting element/molecule worth spending a few moments learning about before moving on to the evolution of our atmosphere.

I believe this sort of background information will enable you to reply more effectively the next time some contrarian stooge tosses you that old standby: "The bottom line is that CO2 is at all-time lows going back five hundred million years."  Those trying to be especially sciencie, will flourish a graph looking like:

 "Ah ha, try explaining that one!"
"Today Earth is CO2 starved!"
And that's were they leave it. 
"CO2 was higher, ergo AGW is a hoax." 

End of argument, nothing else to talk about, all the while deliberately blinding themselves to the reality that atmospheric CO2 is higher than it's ever been during humanity's tenure on this planet.  

For me, it's immensely sad imagining people being satisfied with such a simpletons' one dimensional cartoon image of the physical world we come from and depend on.

The rational approach of the genuinely curious is to ask questions and try to understand what that graph is telling us.  Where did all that CO2 come from?  What was going on back then?  Why did it peak and then drop, then slightly rise again only to fade down hill again?  How does it relate to today's Earth? Where's that graph from (no citation was offered)?  What does the attached study discuss?  What's the margin of error in that data set? ect. All interesting stuff you need to know about before you begin to have any inkling of what's going on.  That's why we have experts, people who have committed themselves to full time study and reporting back to us regular folks.

Investigating those questions quickly reveals an amazing world of harmonic complexity and fascinating interconnected details most of us are unaware of.  

When it comes to Deep Time, we've discovered all sorts of fascinating facts about how important carbon was in our planet's history and the world we inhabit today.  But the amazement starts well before Earth, though I'll let Dr. Hazen explain it in his talk, "Unanswered Questions in Deep Carbon Research", which I've embedded, with time-signature notes, at the end of this introduction.

First, I want to take a moment on the original comment about extremely high CO2 levels in the past 600 million years and beyond.  There were good reasons for why those levels were so high and fluctuated the way they did and for how Earth's climate reacted.  

I invite you to consider that graph while reviewing some highlights in our biosphere's evolution.  Stuff that paved the way for the world humanity inhabits today.

580-500 Ma (million years ago) - Most modern phyla of animals begin to appear in the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion.[44][45] 
560 Ma - Earliest fungi 
535 Ma - Major diversification of living things in the oceans: chordates, arthropods (e.g. trilobites, crustaceans), echinoderms, mollusks, brachiopods, foraminifers and radiolarians, etc. 
530 Ma - The first known footprints on land date to 530 Ma, indicating that early animal explorations may have predated the development of terrestrial plants.[46] 
505 Ma - Fossilization of the Burgess Shale 
485 Ma - First vertebrates with true bones (jawless fishes) 
432 Ma - The first primitive plants move onto land,[47] having evolved from green algae living along the edges of lakes.[48] They are accompanied by fungi[citation needed], which may have aided the colonization of land through symbiosis.
(Have you ever tried to imagine a landscape, where there was only rock and water, the only sculpting forces: tectonic activities, gravity, wind, water, tides, and temperature.  Nothing to hold gravel, sand and silt in place, other than being buried.  That's what we had on Earth for some four billion years. It's revelations such as these, along with their implications, that make evolution such a fascinating intellectual adventure no matter what level of understanding you are at.)
363 Ma - By the start of the Carboniferous Period, the Earth begins to be recognisable. 
360 Ma - First crabs and ferns. Land flora dominated by seed ferns. 
280 Ma - Earliest beetles, seed plants and conifers diversify while lepidodendrids and sphenopsids decrease. Terrestrial temnospondyl amphibians and pelycosaurs (e.g. Dimetrodon) diversify in species. 
251.4 Ma - The Permian–Triassic extinction event eliminates over 90-95% of marine species 
225 Ma - Earliest dinosaurs (prosauropods), first cardiid bivalves, diversity in cycads, bennettitaleans, and conifers. First teleost fishes. First mammals (Adelobasileus).
220 Ma - Seed-producing Gymnosperm forests dominate the land; herbivores grow to huge sizes to accommodate the large guts necessary to digest the nutrient-poor plants.[citation needed] First flies and turtles (Odontochelys). First coelophysoid dinosaurs. 
130 Ma - The rise of the angiosperms: These flowering plants boast structures that attract insects and other animals to spread pollen. This innovation causes a major burst of animal evolution through coevolution. 
80 Ma - First ants - (a monumental moment for soil creation/fabrication)
66 Ma - The Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event eradicates about half of all animal species,  
35 Ma - Grasses evolve from among the angiosperms; grasslands begin to expand.  
10 Ma - Grasslands and savannas are established, diversity in insects, especially ants and termites, horses increase in body size and develop high-crowned teeth, major diversification in grassland mammals and snakes
Not to be overlooked, is the role plate tectonics, drifting continents, with their geologic upheaval and changing ocean basin configuration played in the climatic changes of Earth's deep past.

Earth's history in the last 600 million years 

To summarize, there are plenty of understandable reasons for elevated atmospheric CO2  and it's impact on the climate of primal Earth, none of them have a direct bearing on the changes in today's world* which are directly attributable to human activities such as fossil fuels burning, forest destruction, concrete production, agriculture activities, transportation.  (* That is, beyond helping create today's world.)

Greenhouse-gas levels highest for 650,000 years 
Michael Hopkin
also see
Looking back five million years.

Earth's Climate History: Implications for Tomorrow
By James E. Hansen and Makiko Sato — July 2011

CarbonTracker | 3:35
Published on Mar 1, 2013
History of atmospheric carbon dioxide from 800,000 years before present until January, 2012. 
See for more information on the global carbon cycle.
And now, on to the main feature
Dr. Hazen and the amazing element Carbon

Robert Hazen: Unanswered questions in deep carbon research 

MoleCluesTV | 45:40
Published on Jun 3, 2013
Dr Robert Hazen's lecture at the annual Molecular Frontiers Symposium at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, May 2013. The topic of the 2013 symposium was "Exploring the boundaries: the science of the extremes". Check our YouTube channel for more exciting science videos! For more information, visit


Introduce the Deep Carbon Observatory.
1.  What happens to carbon minerals at extreme pressure of the lower mantle?
2.  To what extent does synthesis of organic molecules occur in the upper mantle?
3.  What is the nature and extent of the deep crustal microbial biosphere?
4.  How has carbon mineralogy changed through deep time?

2:00 - Carbon in Earth
Carbon is the fourth most abundant element.
Minus Hydrogen and Helium in solar system, carbon equals 23% of all other elements, 
Oxygen being the only other element more abundant than carbon.

2:20 - The Carbon Cycle  -  The Deep Carbon Cycle

4:00 - Questions about the Carbon in Earth
     1. What are properties of carbon at extreme pressure and temperature?
     2. Where is the carbon and how does it move among deep reservoirs and the surface?
     3. Is there a deep source of organic molecules?
     4. What is the nature and extent of deep microbial life?

Mineralogical Society of America,  www,
Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry, Volume 75: 
Carbon in Earth
Robert M. Hazen, Adrian P. Jones, and John A. Baross, editors
i-xv + 698 pages. ISBN 978-0-939950-90-4
Description    Table of Contents and Downloads    List of Volumes

5:45 How much carbon is stored in Earth?

6:15 - How much and where is Earth's carbon?
     Atmospheric CO2: 380 (400) ppm
     Crust: 200 ppm
     Seawater C: 30 ppm
     Earth's mantle and core: ?

7:15 - A look at three subsets of carbon - Extreme heat and pressure
* Consider Graphite and Diamonds
* Carbon dioxide at high pressure polymerize into tighter packed molecular arrangement.
* At even higher pressures of the lower mantle - hints of CO2 breaking down to its elemental constituents.

9:45 - Carbonate at high pressure - new discoveries of Dense carbonates with repacked tighter structure, resembling Silicates, but with significant differences

13:30 - The Second Question - What is the extent of deep abiotic organic synthesis?
The great hydrocarbon debate - 
Organic hydrocarbons, fossils of living being or Deep Abiotic Origin of hydrocarbons?

Deep Abiotic Organics - Methane CH4  - Microbial / Thermogenic
more info:

As with natural gas, methane hydrates can be formed through biogenic or thermogenic processes:

In biogenic formation, the methane is produced by biological activity as microorganisms attempt to decompose the remains of marine life (as above, primarily marine phytoplankton and zooplankton). In this case, methane is produced by the anoxic behaviors of methanogenic bacteria.

In thermogenic formation, the gas is formed in the same manner as natural gas…through catagenesis of kerogen. In fact, this may be the same natural gas that was formed above, it just migrates to a region(remember, gas is lighter than earth materials and wants to reach the surface) where the formation of hydrates is favorable.

Possibility of abiotic synthesis in upper mantle and crust - keep an open mind.

16:00 - Evidence for Deep Abiotic Organics
Experiment, Methane production under mantle conditions -  Pressure driven redux
Scott - Hemley, et al. | September 28, 2004 | vol. 101 no. 39 

18:10 - Did deep organic synthesis contribute to the origins of life?

18:25 - Question three: The nature and extent of the deep microbial biosphere?

19:00 - Deep microbial life everywhere we look - life out of rocks - chemolithotrops


Chemolithotrophy | Aharon Oren | September 2009

Many prokaryotes, Bacteria as well as Archaea, obtain their energy from the oxidation of reduced inorganic compounds such as hydrogen, ammonia, nitrite, sulfide, elemental sulfur, hydrogen and Fe(II) ions. These organisms can derive all their cellular carbon from carbon dioxide, and they are thus able to grow without any organic compounds and without light. Such microorganisms are called chemolithotrophs or chemoautotrophs. Chemolithotrophic life is possible in the presence as well as in the absence of molecular oxygen. 

21:20 - Portable Deep Exploration Biosphere In-situ Investigative Tool 
Able to study microbes within deep boreholes. 

23:30 - Microbial activity at Gigapascal Pressures
Life in ice at 1.4 GPa (14 kbar) - Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya

25:00 - Is there a "shadow biosphere" at T>150°C that might point to an early domain of life?

"Origin of life was molecular event, it was a molecular self-assembly of some sort and then layers of complexity.  Once you have the first self replicating set of molecules, then you could layer complexity on top of that, then what you see is the modern DNA and chemistry that's much much more complex than the first self-replicating molecules."

26:00 - The potential of the remnants of first life still being present in deep earth.

27:00 - Is there a deep domain of "life" that does not rely on DNA and proteins?

28:00 - Last question: How has carbon mineralogy changed through deep time?
What were the first minerals in the cosmos?
What does Earth's changing near-surface mineralogy reveal about the carbon cycle through deep time?

Mineral Evolution - A change over time in: 
    The diversity of mineral (a crystalline compound) species
    The relative abundances of minerals
    The compositional ranges of minerals
    The grain sizes and shapes of minerals

29:00 - Key ideas
Minerals have always been principal repositories of carbon in Earth.
Near-surface carbon mineralogy has changed through Earth history.
Earth's geosphere and biosphere have co-evolved.

29:20 - "Ur"-Mineralogy
Per-solar grains contain about a dozen micro- and nano-mineral phases:

29:00 - Importance of asking new questions.

31:20 - First there was the Big-Bang - 
    Where did first elements come from? 
    What was the first defined mineral?
    What were the conditions where the first mineral formed?
    Carbon's unique position - abundance and proper properties
    Diamonds/Lonsdaleite (C)
    Graphite (C)
    Moissanite (SiC) ...

33:30 - Mineral Evolution
How did we get from a dozen minerals to >4700 on Earth today?
What does the distribution of minerals through time tell us about key tectonic, geochemical, and biological events?

34:00 - Carbon Mineralogy Today
387 IMA approved mineral species today -
Carbon Allotropes:       4
Carbides:     10
Carbonates: >300
     Anhydrous   110
     Hydrated ~200
Organic Minerals   ~50
     Hydrocarbons       9
     Oxalates     12

Carbon the most chemically diverse of all elements, it's unique.
     Oxidation states from -4 to +4
     Bonds to most (<80) elements
     Most commonly in 2, 3 or 4 coordination

34:50 - First minerals formed ~4.56 Ga in the Solar Nebula "as a consequence of condensation, melt solidification or solid-state recrystallization" (MacPherson 2007)
     CAIs (calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions)
     Silicate matrix
     Opaque phases Carbonatites

Nebula and gravity - condensation - pressure pulses - cosmic dust bunnies - chondrules
~60 minerals created during early phase of star formation, joined by later generation planet formation.  
Aqueous alteration, metamorphism and differentiation of planetesimals so that by 4.56-4.55 Ga ~250 mineral species have developed.

37:30 - In these early stages all of Earth's near-surface compositional complexity was present, but it was not manifest in a diversity of unusual mineral species (~250 minerals)

38:00 - 4.55-4.0 billion years ago - Initiation of Igneous Rock Evolution on a Volatile-rich Body - Volcanism, outgasing, and surface hydration
Brings Earth's mineral species count up to ~420
    ~30 carbon mineral:
    Graphite, diamond, lonsdaleite, 
    Moissanite, cohenite, haxonite,
    Carbonates, dominated by Ca, Mg, Fe and possibly Mn.

38:40 - >3.5 billion years ago - Granitoid Formation
Partial melting of basalt and/or sediments
Complex pegmatites require multiple cycles of eutectic melting and fluid concentration.
Formation of granites.
Brings Earth up to >1000 mineral species 

39:45 - >3 billion years ago - Plate tectonics and large-scale hydrothermal reworking of the crust.  New modes of volcanism, resulting in massive base metal deposits (sulfides, sulfosalts), new carbonate sulfates, All known examples are younger than 3.0 Ga.
Brings Earth up to ~1500 mineral species

"We estimate that perhaps only ~75 of the 387 known carbon minerals could have occurred on prebiotic Earth."

40:00 - There are no physical, or chemical properties that can take up beyond ~1500 minerals.
But today we have nearly 5000 mineral species on Earth.  
How is that possible?  
It's possible because Earth is alive!  

41:00 - 3.9-2.5 billion years ago - Anoxic Archean biosphere - no new mineral formation

41:35 - 2.5-1.85 billion years ago - Paleoproterozoic Oxidation
The rise of oxidative photosynthesis
    >4,500 mineral species, including perhaps >3,000 new oxides/hydroxides/carbonates
    Virtually all 369 (out of ~400) Cu1+ or CU2+ + O copper minerals
    ~220 of 233 U minerals
    ~400 of 499 Mn minerals
    ~100 of 142 Ni minerals
    >700 of 1025 Fe minerals

42:15 - Changes in Earth's atmospheric composition at ~2.4 to 2.2 Ga represent the single most significant factor in our planet's mineralogical diversity - 
>4,700 mineral species on Earth today.

42:25 - More than 200 carbonate minerals, including >150 hydrous carbonate species, appeared for the first time after the GOE (Great Oxygen Event)

42:30 - 542,000 years ago - Phanerozoic Biomineralization
Biominerals and clays bringing Earth's total mineral diversity to >4,700 distinct species.
Earth has gone through at least 10 unique stage of development - 
(Putting it into perspective.)

44:25 - Conclusions
Carbon has played a central role in cosmic mineralogy since the first ur-minerals.
The Great Oxidation Event was the most important factor in carbon mineral diversification.
The biosphere played a key role in the changing chemistry of the exosphere.

New Results: Correlations with supercontinent cycle, changes in atmosphere and oceans, and the rise of the terrestrial biosphere.

45:20 - {Robert Hazen get's most excited when he gets to discuss the unresolved questions that require further groundbreaking research.}
Frontiers in Extreme Carbon
What is the carbon mineralogy of Earth's lower mantle and core?
What is the extent of deep organic synthesis, and did that play a role in life's origins?
What is the nature and extent of deep life?
How has carbon mineralogy varied through deep time on Earth and other planets?

Evolution of Minerals on Earth
By Robert Hazen

American Mineralogist, Volume 93, pages 1693–1720, 2008
Mineral evolution
Robert M. Hazen, Dominic PapineauWouter Bleeker,  Robert T. Downs, John M. Ferry, Timothy J. McCoy, Dimitri A. Sverjensky,  Hexiong Yang 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016
{1} Our Global Heat and Moisture Distribution Engine

Saturday, January 9, 2016
{2} Co-evolution of Minerals and Life | Dr Robert Hazen

Thursday, January 14, 2016
{3} Evolution of Carbon and our biosphere - Professor Hazen focuses on the element Carbon

Saturday, January 23, 2016
{4} Evolution-Considering Deep Time and a Couple Big Breaks

Saturday, February 6, 2016
{5a} The Most Beautiful Graph on Earth - A. Hessler

Sunday, February 7, 2016
{5b} Earth's Earliest Climate - By Angela Hessler

Sunday, February 14, 2016
{6} Evolution of Earth's Atmosphere - easy version

Thursday, February 18, 2016
{7} Our Global Heat and Moisture Distribution Engine, visualized

Friday, February 19, 2016
{8} Atmospheric Insulation Explained - appreciating our climate engine

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