The Viridian Design Movement

From: Bruce Sterling []

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 here.

I'd call Metropolis my favorite magazine right now, if I hadn't just become WIRED magazine's monthly editorialist.

Biosphere or Biomass?

by Michael Semer (msemer*

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... be... released..!)

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 those sediments?"

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 whole schmear.

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 emission.

(((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 wrong?

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