From: Bruce Sterling [email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, December 18, 2002 10:39 PM
Subject: Viridian Note 00354:
Paging Thomas Gold
- Key concepts
- Thomas Gold, deep hot biosphere,
crude oil, subterranean bacteria, ubiquitous microbes
- Attention Conservation Notice:
- a note researched
and written by Michael Semer, a Viridian who took
the trouble to actually talk to Dr. Thomas Gold.
This Sunday night, December 22, it's AMODA
music night in the Viridian Vatican's front yard.
And, whoopee, we've got an electronic-art installation
running live on the front porch! Drop on by!
Whoa, hey, some edgy political satire here.
In the new, Jan 2003 issue of Metropolis, the Viridian
Pope-Emperor has a piece of fiction. No, not science fiction – architecture fiction. You should subscribe. Heaven knows I do.
That January 2003 issue of Metropolis is not just wimpy,
hippie, commune green – it is aggressive, big-budget,
metropolitan green. I've never seen the like! There's a
swell house-of-the-future piece from an earlier issue
I'd call Metropolis my favorite magazine right now, if I
hadn't just become WIRED magazine's monthly editorialist.
Biosphere or Biomass?
There's one question that bubbles up when I consider
Thomas Gold's theories on the "deep, hot biosphere." What
about the old-hat fossil petroleum theory?
(Gold's theory: deep-crust bacteria are the real source
of oil and gas deposits, processing carbon and pumping out
petroleum whilst also laying down the veins of gold,
platinum and other minerals we happen across. Not to
mention generating earthquakes, via production of
subterranean biological gases which build up and must...
After hundreds of millions of years' worth of accretion
of plants, animals, Dino, Fred and Wilma, wasn't enough
fossil biomass produced to pay for all those Saudi
Mercedes and Ken Lay's court costs?
So I asked the good Doctor Gold himself. His reply:
"The answer is a clear NO. There is even far too
little for all the ocean methane hydrates, which are said
to amount to as much as all the rest put together, and are
supposed to have derived from a few meters of ocean mud.
It is a waste of time to debate the issue, as the
discrepancy is so large."
And a few days later, Dr. Gold even included a P.S.:
"Also just think of the amount of water that would
have been available on each cm2, compared to the amount of
oil that deposit could have generated. What would be the
ratio of oil to water that would eventually come from
I'm fond of Thomas Gold's theories for two reasons:
First, there's a sweet cosmic elegance about it all;
the native stuff of the universe getting transfigured by
bizarre deep bioforms we surface-crawlers can only guess
at; it's all there, interconnectedness, complexity, the
Second: The Prevailing Wisdom is so sold on fossilbiomass, it has hardened into cant. Supposition – even informed supposition – as axiom? That practically gooses me into weighing other notions.
I like Gold's theories – I also have no idea if they're right or not. But just because oil is down there,
even in prodigious supply, doesn't mean it's meant to be
up in the sky, skunking our atmosphere. Who knows what it
means to be depleting the planet's crust of petroleum,
bacterial or not? We could be giving our planet the
equivalent of dry scalp. No wonder Gaia chooses to shake
us up occasionally with a huge, rude, tectonic... gaseous
(((bruces remarks: I applaud Mike Semer's initiative and
am grateful to Thomas Gold for answering him and us. I'm
not given to cranky convictions about way-out science
theories, and I do understand that extraordinary claims
demand extraordinary proof. It may well be that weird
microbes are merely intellectually sexy this season... but
this Gold notion has got legs. Consider the following, and
the possible interconnections here.)))
- Michael Russell's theory that single-celled life was
formed, not in open seawater, but in water-soaked iron
sulfide rocks in hydrothermal vents. Mineral "cell walls"
formed first, and then self-replicating chemistry formed
within these tiny stone pockets. If this is true, then
most rocky planets might have formed chemosynthetic life
deep underground, wherever hot water oozes through
chemically active rock.
- NASA/Stanford suggests possible fossil Martian microbes
in Antarctic meteorites.
- Dirk Schulze-Makuch says there's an odd chemical
imbalance in atmosphere of Venus, which could be caused by
sulfur-metabolizing bacteria, living in damp, pleasant
temperatures in high Venusian clouds.
- Oliver Morton's ideas that Earth's cloud formation
involves ocean bacteria nucleating ice crystals. As
Morton puts it, "Clouds might be plankton's way of moving
a great distance."
- New collision models for asteroids suggest that chunks
of rock might be flung from planet to planet, with live
bacteria intact. Spores of "Bacillus permians" have been
known to survive for 250 million years.
- Thomas Gold's deep hot biosphere theories. Yes, they
are odd and his book makes a wide array of claims. But
those claims don't all have to be factual, in order for
there to be a lot – a *whole* lot – of primeval living
biomass deep in the crust of the earth. Tectonic drift is
a geological commonplace now, and that wasn't accepted
until the 1960s. How much of what we think we know is
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
THERE'S MORE TO COME
LOTS, LOTS MORE
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O