Reflecting on Deep Time in a Young Landscape

Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.

  • John Muir, Our National Parks

Going to the mountains is a pilgrimage.  For as long as I can remember, the mountains have provided a haven, a place for contemplation, a respite from the the ordinary.  In younger days it was the Cascade Range, with its volcanic edifices atop a basement of older plutons and metamorphic rocks.  Then later the volcanic landscapes of the Oregon Cascades, the stacked metasedimentary rocks of the Canadian Rockies, the Overthrust Belt of western Wyoming. and the remote reaches of Alaska’s Brooks Range.  It is relatively recently I discovered the varied mountains of California, including the starkly beautiful ridges and valleys in the Transverse Range and Santa Monica Mountains.

The granite landscape of the Sierra Nevada draws me in.  At first glance, the rocks are uniform.  Taking the time to really look one starts to see subtle differences in texture, color, and how they respond to weathering.  A background in geology definitely helps in seeing diversity in a seemingly endless gray-white landscape.  Climbers have a better sense of the geology than the casual observer as their life may depend on their ability to “read the rocks.”

Yosemite always beckons.  For the first time in over a year, I heeded the call.

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Cathedral Peak and Upper Cathedral Lake from Cathedral Pass

Even in fall the Cathedral Lakes trail has upwards of a hundred people following Muir’s admonishment.  The trail to the lakes, and above to Cathedral Pass cross the Cathedral Peak Granite, a marvelous rock with very large megacrysts of the mineral orthoclase, a potassium-rich feldspar.  These crystals are pervasive in the rock, with many areas where you find large masses of these 2- to 4-inch crystals.  The orthoclase is more resistant to weathering than the surrounding smaller crystals, forming knobby surfaces.  Glacially polished surfaces show no preference for orthoclase or groundmass, they both polish up equally well.

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Weathered Cathedral Peak Granite with knobby orthoclase megacrysts

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Glacial polished Cathedral Peak Granite

When hiking the trails of Yosemite, one is never alone.  Which made a hike to Mono Pass, then onward to Parker Pass all the more notable.  It was a solitary hike, with only the rocks, stunted trees in the high country, raucous Clark’s Nutcrackers, and the wind for company.  It was not until the last hour of the hike, on the way back to the trailhead, when I encountered another hiker, then saw five other people within the space of a half mile.

The hike to Mono and Parker Passes takes one into the country rock which surrounded the granite masses when they were intruded.  Dark, gray and red, these rocks are metamorphosed sedimentary and volcanic rocks far older than the granites.  At times it was easy to see the contact zone between the two types of rocks, which provides a sense of some of the dynamics that took place when the granites were intruded.  The metamorphic rocks are more easily weathered, and tend to break down into smaller fragments, which results in less craggy peaks compared to those of granite.

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Mono Pass with Mono Lake in the distance

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The flat expanse of Parker Pass, elevation 11,100 feet ASL

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Spillway Lake at the base of the Kuna Crest; note the contrast between the dark metamorphic rocks just above the lake, and the lighter Kuna Crest Granodiorite of the ridgetop

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Metamorphic rock pavement on the divide between Mono and Parker Passes

These excursions into the back country reveal the depths of time.  The story of mountain building in this part of the world starts with ancient rocks which had their origins undersea and were subsequently altered through the action of heat and pressure, the emplacement of granite at a time when dinosaurs roamed a good part of the Earth, and culminates with the recent uplift associated with the formation of the basin and range province covering much of Nevada.

It is the much more recent tearing away at these mountains that created the allure drawing millions to Yosemite each year.  The evidence is everywhere: from the can’t miss vertical cliffs and bare granite domes, the hanging valleys with cascading waters, to the subtle ridges of moraines left behind when glaciers retreated, and the polished rock surfaces.  Weathering and erosion have left their mark on the land.

The tidings of the mountains are the very story of the Earth itself, nature’s source for the tale of deep time.  It is there for all to read and hear, one just has to slow down to look and listen.

Panorama looking northwest from Parker Pass

Panorama looking northwest from Parker Pass

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Learning to See

This past August, I had eye surgery, an event giving me a renewed appreciation for what our brains are capable of, and their elasticity in accommodating and assimilating sensory input as well as ideas. My recovery reminded me of the film shown in many classes in the 1960s, where a researcher wore a set of glasses that caused the world to appear upside down. Within a few days, the researcher’s brain inverted the image and the world once again appeared right side up. A couple of days later the glasses came off, and everything again was upside down, and eventually the researcher again perceived the world as before the experiment. It takes babies several weeks for their brains to learn how to fuse the inputs from each eye into a single image.

In my case, a defect in my eye muscles caused them to not work properly, creating a misalignment of my eyes. The misalignment was great enough that my brain couldn’t compensate for the difference, resulting in some double vision. Minor surgery was successful at correcting my muscular imbalance, aligning my eyes so my brain is able to fuse the input from both eyes into a single image. But the fusing of these images following surgery was not instantaneous, and took several weeks for my brain to relearn how to see and completely restore my singular perception of the world. As with babies, the ability to track moving objects took longer to redevelop.

The restoration of my sight is somewhat analogous to what educators do when confronted with a learner’s lack of understanding, and perhaps misconception of scientific principles and/or natural phenomena.

An in depth understanding, and ability to thoroughly explain phenomena requires time and multiple opportunities to practice, with sustained contact with the concept over many days if not weeks. As with any learner, effective teacher professional development related to natural phenomena should include reinforcement over time.

In the case of solar and lunar eclipses, one could show someone a diagram and explain the phenomena in words, which a learner could, in all likelihood recite verbatim back to the explainer. However, really owning the concept through cognitive accommodation and assimilation takes time and an awareness of a suite of background concepts and phenomena including: Earth’s (and the Moon’s) rotation and revolution, and their relationship to how time is measured; shadows and light, particularly the kind of shadow cast by a spherical object illuminated by a single, point source; the measurement of angular size; size and distance scale of the Earth and Moon; the frequency and pattern of lunar phases; and the frequency and pattern of lunar and solar eclipses, and their relationship to lunar phases. The learning of any one aspect of eclipse phenomena is akin to keeping one eye closed when looking at a distant object. The depth of understanding is lost, much as binocular vision is necessary for visual depth perception. A misconception, such as lunar phases are the Moon passing into Earth’s shadow, or the Moon really is larger when it rises is similar to having both eyes open but with each eye gazing in a slightly different direction. The brain may pay greater attention to one image while relegating the other as an annoyance safely ignored. Unfortunately, many misconceptions offer a stronger, and perhaps more intuitive appeal, until the learner is confronted with evidence with which to dispel the misconception. It is in the fusing of all the experiences where in-depth learning and integration of a concept takes place.

As mentioned in previous Education Matters columns, the Next Generation Science Standards have provided a marvelous framework for engaging learners in the sorts of in-depth investigations necessary for fully understanding eclipses. Through the use of a storyline approach, educators can actively engage learners in each of the essential background concepts mentioned above. Using resources developed for ASP programs the Night Sky Network, Project ASTRO, and Astronomy from the Ground Up, ASP staff have created such a storyline and are using it in workshops to help educators prepare for next year.

The total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 is a teachable moment without compare. Taking place mid-day, on a day when many schools throughout the country are in session, it is an opportunity for educators, in and out of the classroom, to engage learners of all ages in experiences with both eyes open, both literally and metaphorically, promoting a full understanding of a phenomena that has caused wonder and bafflement for millennia.

This post originally appeared as the Education Matters column in the fall 2016 issue of the ASP’s Mercury magazine.

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It’s Elementary

Recently, The National Academies Press published Science Teachers’ Learning (NAP, 2015), a report on the current state of science teacher preparation, along with recommendations for approaching how and when teachers engage in professional development, and the necessary changes to education policy influencing those opportunities. I became aware of this new resource at the 2016 NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Nashville, Tennessee, when Dr. Julie Luft, a member of the committee that worked on the report, gave a presentation to a joint meeting of the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA) and the Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE). In her talk, Dr. Luft presented some sobering, but not surprising, statistics from the report: during a three year period, 41% of elementary teachers participated in no science related professional development (PD). And only 12% participated in the equivalent of one day of science related PD during the same three-year period. This is in stark contrast to the 18% of middle school, and 15% of high school teachers who did not engage in science related PD. 47% of middle school science teachers, and 57% of those in high school participated in at least one day of science PD per year during the same time.

Elementary teachers are particularly challenged compared to their secondary colleagues due in large part to their teaching multiple subjects, particularly math and language arts, which are emphasized due to their prominence in the high-stakes testing that has influenced education policies since the implementation of No Child Left Behind. As a result of these policies, studies cited in the NAP report indicate only 19% of K-2 classrooms, and 30% of those in grades 3-5 receive science instruction on a daily basis. When science is offered, it only accounts for an average of 19 minutes per day in grades K-3, compared to 54 minutes for math, and 89 minutes per day in language arts. Grade 4-6 classes show a slight increase to 24 minutes per day for science instruction. These short time spans for science results in learners making few connections between the instruction and developing a rudimentary understanding of basic scientific concepts. Even in classrooms where science takes a greater role, elementary teachers are generally unprepared to develop learning opportunities for their students, let alone implement them. While teaching basic scientific concepts requires a different skill set and knowledge base than that required for engaging in scientific research, few teacher preparation programs provide adequate opportunities for acquiring the relevant pedagogical content knowledge. Only 5% of elementary teachers majored in a science-related field, about the same as the 6% who took no college science courses.

As noted in previous Education Matters columns, from time to time I visit science methods classes in teacher preparation programs at local universities. I also have interacted with inservice elementary teachers during teacher resource fairs, and professional development workshops delivered at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. While many of the elementary teachers I come in contact with have a relatively sophisticated understanding of science, a large number of the early elementary teachers I have spoken with demonstrate the opposite. One first grade teacher in particular described how he incorporated the scientific method in activities, with students conducting controlled experiments. During our conversation, we discussed how the scientific method is a myth, and how there are a great many ways of doing science. Much of biology, as well as earth and space science do not conduct controlled experiments, and rely on observation, prediction, and modeling to arrive at conclusions. A more developmentally appropriate approach for engaging a first grader involves emphasizing questioning, and making observations to recognize and describe patterns. The ability to control variables is cognitively available for somewhat older learners.

A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NAP, 2011), and the subsequent Next Generation Science Standards (NAP, 2013), set the stage for significant changes in how teachers, including those at the elementary level, will approach their curricular and instructional decisions. Teacher preparation programs, as well as professional development providers (including the Astroteacher and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific) are in the process of redeveloping their offerings to reflect these changes. The emphasis on student engagement in the practices of science, and reasoning from evidence requires a better understanding on the part of implementing teachers of both the core ideas and concepts of science, and their application during active investigations through the use of the practices. The implication of the report, and efforts to fully implement the philosophy laid out in the Framework, is the dearth of science instruction in elementary grades must, and will increase. To accomplish this, the frequency and quality of teacher learning must also change.

Note: This post originally appeared as the Summer 2016 Education Matters column in the ASP published Mercury magazine.  The author serves as the Region F Director for the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA).

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Evoking a Sense of Awe

“Our ancestors worshiped the Sun, and they were far from foolish.  And yet the Sun is an ordinary, even a mediocre star.  If we must worship a power greater than ourselves, does it not make sense to revere the Sun and stars?  Hidden within every astronomical investigation, sometimes so deeply buried that the research himself (sic) is unaware of its presence, lies a kernel of awe.”

-Carl Sagan, Cosmos

In their quest to understand and explain the natural phenomena they experienced on a daily basis, our ancestors told stories, many of which became the myths and legends with their pantheon of gods.  Objects such as the Sun and Moon, as well as more earthly places such as the seas and volcanoes, were the manifestations of the unseen beings behind the phenomena.  Monuments and cathedrals were built to honor these deities, while providing a place in which to worship.

In our modern age, scientists have explained the vast majority of the phenomena formerly attributed to magical or supernatural beings.  In one way the practice of science has led to the creation of new edifices, the instruments with which scientists undertake their investigations.  Astronomers have a particularly visible set of instruments, the observatories whose domes grace mountaintops in many places around the world, as well as in orbit above the obscuring effects of Earth’s atmosphere.  Kitt Peak is one such place.

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Kitt Peak National Observatory from the gallery of the Mayall 4-meter telescope.  Baboquivari Peak, the center of Tohono O’odham cosmology and home to their creator, I’itoi, rises in the distance.

Located on the second most sacred peak to the Tohono O’odham people, Kitt Peak features over two dozen optical and radio telescopes.  The largest instrument is the Mayall 4-meter telescope, and most iconic is the 1.6-meter McMath-Pierce solar telescope.

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Walking towards the McMath-Pierce solar telescope.

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Earlier this month, as a part of the Project ASTRO National Network annual Site Leaders Meeting, a group of us visited Kitt Peak.  The highlight of the tour was a visit to the solar telescope, and the opportunity to watch sunset on a projected image of the Sun, watching as clouds obscured the solar disc, and as it dropped behind a distant range of mountains.  It was an amazing spectacle.

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After sunset, the researcher operating the telescope asked us if we wanted to go up to the top.  Of course we said yes!  And were treated to a view from a hundred feet above the ground.

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Schematic of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope. Image: NOAO

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Climbing the stairs inside the superstructure.

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Looking down the optical tunnel from the top.

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The heliostat at the top of the telescope.

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The tall dome to the right houses the Mayall 4-meter telescope.

In many ways our society takes the Sun for granted.  Astronomers, and particularly those who study the Sun, know better.  They are granted a front row seat to a spectacle inspiring awe in anyone fortunate enough to gaze on the phenomena with open eyes and mind.

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Thinking About Space

The advent of the personal computer and the Worldwide Web revolutionized the way we interact with each other, and information about, well about everything. A cliché, without a doubt. From an educational standpoint, these virtual interactions have yet to fulfill their promise, with many of them little more than novelties and games. Computers have provided innovative means to collect and analyze data in the classroom, to access data online, and to change the parameters in simulations to better understand the relationships between variables. A common limitation of these activities is the learner remains passive, observing what is taking place, or simply acquiring information. It is the rare program or website that truly provides a dynamic environment for learners to actively engage in manipulating a scenario and making sense out of phenomena. Desktop planetarium software does provide the ability to navigate through space and time with relative ease; however, in many ways, it is more suited to acquiring data for historic or future astronomical events. The folks at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) are out to change this, creating a virtual environment for learners to engage in inquiry about a variety of astronomical phenomena through the Worldwide Telescope (WWT), an astronomy visualization program created by Microsoft Research, and now an open source program hosted by the American Astronomical Society.

For a number of years, the WWT Ambassadors team, led by Alyssa Goodman and Patricia Udomprasert, has tested the efficacy of WWT as a platform for inquiry. An NSF EAGER grant allowed them to collect data to demonstrate its potential, resulting in a larger DRK-12 development grant to produce a series of modules utilizing guided inquiry to teach about astronomical phenomena and spatial thinking. One finding from their initial research is how WWT as a learning tool is particularly effective when combined with activities where learners physically manipulate objects to model the phenomena they are investigating in WWT. It turns out the learners develop a more accurate, and durable mental model of the phenomena when using both tools together than with either in isolation.

This has some profound implications for education in general, particularly when it comes to providing opportunities for learners to develop their spatial thinking. Co-Principal Investigator Julia Plummer (Pennsylvania State University) of the DRK-12 project says: “One of the main issues in spatial thinking in astronomy is learning to visualize both static and dynamic objects and systems and then imagine how those objects or systems would look from different perspectives.” In traditional astronomy teaching, static images are frequently used to represent dynamic phenomena, without providing learners enough support to allow them to construct a mental model of the phenomena. The WWT-based labs designed by the WWT Ambassadors team allow learners to move around within the visualization, observing the phenomena from a variety of perspectives. Combined with physical manipulation of objects through modeling of the phenomena, learners are able to undertake spatial transformations, shifting their perspective in real time, thus providing a greater amount of information for their construction of a mental model to explain the actual phenomena.

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Image courtesy Patricia Udomprasert and the WWT Ambassadors team

In general, astronomy has been hampered with an inability to run direct investigations on distant phenomena. We can only observe, and infer through modeling what is occurring. Translated into a learning environment, astronomy does not fit into the neat sequence of the “scientific method” as taught in the majority of classrooms. Astronomy does, however, provide a rich milieu for incorporating modeling into the learning environment, with the opportunity to develop spatial thinking skills with wider application for learners not only in the study of science, but for life skills in general. Platforms and dynamic visualization environments, such as those under development at CfA, will hopefully serve to move the use of computers and online resources away from mere information gathering tools for passive learners, towards model-building simulators, where learners actively investigate phenomena to build their own mental models of how the universe operates.

To learn more about the Worldwide Telescope, go to http://wwtambassadors.org/thinkspace-labs

This post originally appeared as the Education Matters column in the Spring 2016 issue of Mercury Magazine, published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.  The author serves on the advisory panel for the ThinkSpace Labs project.

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Probing for Understanding

“Be very, very careful what you put into that head, because you will never, ever get it out.” – Attributed to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1473-1530)

As with most quotes, the one above is surely taken out of context. Educators like it because it speaks to them of the importance of conveying accurate content to learners during a course of instruction, lest erroneous prior conceptions get reinforced, or new ones formed. The short film A Private Universe debuted in 1987, and immediately became an important resource to help educators understand the importance of learner engagement in hands-on activities to forestall, and correct, misconceptions they hold related to natural, particularly astronomical, phenomena. The film starts with the now-famous scene at a Harvard University commencement where new graduates and faculty members are asked to explain their understanding of the reasons for the seasons, and the causes of the phases of the Moon. A Private Universe showed how even the most highly educated can have enduring misconceptions, and how traditional science instruction does little to replace them.

Educators at every level have a pretty good idea of what prior conceptions learners bring with them, important knowledge when designing educational experiences.   In a formal classroom environment, the educator has the added benefit of having more time to probe learners’ ideas, and using what they glean to make adjustments to their instructional plan. One of the easiest strategies in the classroom involves the use of a “formative assessment probe,” where learners are presented with a description of a phenomenon, and a set of responses from which they have to select the one they agree with the most. Learners are also asked to provide a reasoned explanation for why they agree with their selected response.

Probes such as these are useful when working with both pre- and in-service teachers during a professional development workshop. Not only do they serve to engage the teachers in educational best practices, it also allows us to have a better understanding of the misconceptions they have about astronomical concepts and phenomena. During a recent visit to a science methods class for pre-service teachers in an elementary credential program, the following probe was used:

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This probe is found in: Uncovering Student Ideas in Astronomy, by Page Keeley and Cary Sneider. 2012. NSTA Press. Arlington, Virginia

Much as the Harvard graduates had misconceptions about the causes of the phases of the Moon, many of the prospective teachers in the class had their own. This particular probe was selected to discover their mental model of how much of the Moon is lit at any time, and what it would look like if we are unable to see the fully lit side from Earth. Elementary teachers, let alone prospective elementary teachers, seldom have an extensive background in science, so it was not surprising to discover most of the students had uncertainty about how much of the Moon is lit at any time. A couple of the students had the misconception the dark part of the Moon was because of the Moon passing into Earth’s shadow. One student asked why we could not see stars through the transparent darkened portion of the Moon.

Following the probe, students were given white polystyrene balls, with only a single light bulb for illumination, and were asked to test their ideas. They were able to model how much of their “moon” was illuminated at any time, and to observe how it would look at different positions as the ball orbited their heads.

The results were amazing! Combining the formative assessment probe to determine the learners’ current mental models, with a modeling activity produced a significant conceptual shift to eventually provide fertile ground for an accurate understanding of phenomena to include phases of the Moon, and solar and lunar eclipses. When asked if their understanding depended on the hands-on modeling experience, the response was a unanimous YES! And, they became more likely to affect a change in student understanding once they have classrooms of their own.

At the end of the sessions, these university students reflected on their experience:

I used to think… the moon just turned dark; but now I know… that it is it’s own shadow.

I used to think… the shadow on the moon was the earth; but now I know… it’s the moon’s own shadow.

I used to think… that the part showing on the moon was the only part lit by the sun; but now I know… that half is always lit and it’s all about perspective.

 

The Astroteacher and Page Keeley are co-presenting at the 2016 NSTA conference [www.nsta.org/conferences/national.aspx] in Nashville (March 31–April 3) and will focus on the use of probes to support eclipse modeling activities.

This post originally appeared in the Education Matters column of the winter 2016 issue of Mercury Magazine, published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

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Climate Change is Kind of Like Thanksgiving

The Little Things that Change the World, part 2

As if brandishing a snowball on the floor of the US Senate wasn’t enough to demonstrate a lack of understanding of basic science, let alone climate science, Senator James Inhofe is set to travel to Paris in December taking with him the message Republicans intend to unilaterally sabotage any agreement the world comes to for dealing with human-induced climate change.  While the snowball stunt exposes a fundamental misconception about winter and the affect of Earth’s axial tilt, the overall denial of humankind’s ability to impact the global system is ignoring the history of the Earth.  A history readable in the geologic record.

In part one, we examined the impact the innovation of photosynthesis in single-celled organisms had on the Earth during the Precambrian, an impact absolutely essential for the evolution of multicellular life, including that of a bipedal, large brained species of primate we know as Homo sapiens.  In this installment, let’s take a look at what happened during the middle Paleozoic.

The record of atmospheric composition in the Precambrian indicates few large scale changes in the amount of oxygen and methane.  Carbon dioxide does seem to exhibit a steady downwards trend until a couple of upward curves towards the end of the Era.  In contrast, the Paleozoic Era displays significant fluctuations in both the oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations.  See the graph in part one.  Focusing in more closely on the Paleozoic and up to the present, one can notice some significant trends:

Changes in atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide since the end of the Precambrian. Image: Dorell and Smith, 2011; ec.asm.org

Changes in atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide since the end of the Precambrian. Image: Dorell and Smith, 2011; ec.asm.org

There is a direct relationship between the evolution of life, its distribution on Earth, and the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  The inverse relationship between the increase of oxygen/decrease of carbon dioxide is likewise directly related to the prevalence and distribution of life.  It is important to remind ourselves of the general difference between plants and animals.  Plants tend to take in carbon dioxide, and give off oxygen.  Animals, on the other hand take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide.  The interplay between plants and animals, and their relative abundances influences the overall composition of the atmosphere.

A few points in time indicated by arrows at the bottom of the chart are particularly noteworthy: early land plants (embryophytes) made their appearance at point 0; vascular plants first appeared at point 2; conifers at point 3; and flowering plants at point 4.  The lettered arrows are related to events having to do with the lineage of algae.  At each of the points, particularly those in the middle-Paleozoic, an abrupt decrease in carbon dioxide is coincidental with an important event related to the evolution and distribution of plants.  The innovations allowed the plants to take advantage of empty niches, rapidly spreading across the Earth.  The sheer volume of trees and other plants depleted the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, at the same time as enriching it in oxygen.  The Carboniferous Period is aptly named, as the vast forests eventually became the extensive coal beds we mine today to fuel an industrialized society.

At the same time, particularly in the Devonian and early Carboniferous (I learned it as the Mississippian Period), extensive reefs in the shallow seas surrounding continents and islands were built.  The primary builders of these reefs were corals, animals with a calcium carbonate (CaCO3) exoskeleton.  These coral reefs therefore also became vast storehouses for sequestered carbon dioxide as the corals extracted it from the oceans to build their skeletons.

This uptake of carbon dioxide into the structures of plants on the land, and corals in the sea, resulted in a significant decrease in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  All of that formerly atmospheric carbon dioxide was sequestered in the rocks!  And it is a tremendously large amount of carbon dioxide, in rocks from tens of millions of years of plants living and dying, reefs getting built and buried.

The implications for our modern society relate to both reservoirs of fossilized carbon dioxide.  Humans are actively mining the old Paleozoic forests we now find as coal beds.  Those 300 million year old trees (along with younger coal beds from the Cretaceous and Tertiary Periods) are burning in power plants in countries around the world, returning the sequestered carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.  When this carbon dioxide, as well as the small amounts of sulfur dioxide formed when the sulfur in the coal burns, combine with water in the atmosphere, and in surface waters it forms mild solutions of carbonic acid and/or sulfuric acid.  Falling on the fossilized reefs exposed on land, and in contact with active reefs in the ocean, the acid reacts with the calcium carbonate, liberating small amounts of carbon dioxide.  This is on top of the impact of more acidic ocean water on the ability of reefs to survive, a topic for another day.

Returning to our original premise and Sen. Inhofe’s statement humans are incapable of impacting Earth’s climate.  Trees and corals, organisms of lesser status in Inhofe’s worldview, had a tremendous impact on Earth’s climate, causing changes taking place over several hundreds of millions of years.  And now in our modern age, we are taking the records of those many years and exposing and dissociating them in a time 0.0000005 as long as it took those deposits to form.

It does not take a scientist to understand the implications of releasing over 200,000,000 years of carbon dioxide sequestration in 100 years.  Today is Thanksgiving, a day given to overindulging, eating several days worth of calories in a single meal.  Now imagine all the Thanksgiving meals you have ever eaten and put them on the table before you.  Eat them all, today.  The analogy is apt, as our modern society overindulges without thought for the consequences of figuratively eating tens of millions years worth of carbon in a single day.  We are treating the Earth and its climate as if we were consuming all those meals in a single day, rather than spread out over a lifetime.  It is past time to get off our addiction to fossil fuels, to go on a diet through enacting sensible regulations to limit future emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  We just might have something left for the future.

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