Monday, 14 September 2009

Earth After Us Humans!

Hi there!

Education is a wonderful thing, particularly when one feels inspired to learn for its own sake, rather than at the start of that quest for a vocation. Having 'dipped my toe' in the educational waters earlier this year, I have felt a little lost since it all ended in June!

Time to get back in the saddle I think, so I have enrolled on 'S193: Fossils and the History of Life'. This is a short 10 point Level 1 course which should be a useful introduction to the subject and build on what I learnt on the previous course. It will set me up nicely either for the MGeol course at Leicester or be another 10 points towards an OU Geosciences degree, whatever I choose to do. Leicester is the ultimate goal but such are the financial implications, it may well prove out of reach. We'll see, but what is important is that I keep studying, learning and growing as a human being. The quest for knowledge is what keeps one 'alive' I think. If we're not learning anything, what is the point of it all?

Anyway, going back to a book I mentioned last time - 'Life After Us' by Jan Zalasiewicz, ironically, a lecturer at Leicester University. I've often wondered how our planet would react to the disappearance of us humans. What, if anything, would remain millions of years from now to show future inhabitants of Earth that an intelligent life form once existed in the past? We like to think man's miracles of engineering will survive long into the future, but in reality, what will last longer than say a few hundred years?

In 'Earth After Us', Zalasiewicz gives us his take on what evidence we are likely to leave behind for some alien visitors to discover 100 million years from now. What evidence will there be for such structures as roads and motorways, 100 million years from now? A thin layer of rock with traces of hydrocarbons, found in long narrow lines over hundreds of miles? What evidence will there be for them to deduce that this former dominant lifeform on Earth propelled itself across its surface by some form of powered transportation?

And what about fossilization of humans? I've always quite fancied the idea of being fossilised for some future life on Earth to find me million years from now! But then, as my daughter Aimee frequently tells me, I'm 'weird'! But how could this immortality be achieved? Most fossilisation occurs in shallow marine environments and it seems to take something exceptional for preservation in other environments to occur. So I won't hold out much hope there!

One heartening thought raised by Zalasiewicz is the fate of those millions of tonnes to human detritus buried on landfill sites. All those supermarket shopping bags, shampoo bottles and innumerable plastic containers thoughtlessly dumped, buried and forgotten about. Out of sight . . .? Well, perhaps millions of years from now, after subsequent buriel under layers of fresh sediment and in the right circumstances, these former hydrocarbons may once again be transformed by pressure and heat to form once again, oil and gas reserves for future life forms to exploit! The ultimate in recycling perhaps! Hopefully, if this were to happen, these future beings will use it somewhat more wisely than we have done.

All in all, a fascinating and thought provoking read. It was interesting to see on the books cover, an interpretation of what Earth may look like 100 million years from now rather like Ron Blakey's maps (see the link elsewhere in this blog site!). However, Zalasiewicz says in his book, "unfortunately, we cannot predict where the Earth's continents will be in one hundred million years time". He believes there are so many uncertainties that "detailed prediction becomes useless". I'm not sure I agree with that. Surely there's always room for prediction whatever the variables? In fact, in 'Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau', Blakey and Ranney present a suggestion as to what the Earth may look like for exactly this time period!

I'll delve more into this latter book next time!



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