Key concepts: non-biological petroleum, chemosynthetic bacteria, deep hot
biosphere, Thomas Gold
Attention Conservation Notice: Geologists have somehow managed to ignore this
heretic for thirty years, so why should we be listening to him now? Provokes
cognitive dissonance of the first order. Paradigm-rupturing.
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Deep Hot Biosphere: "a renowned scientist's revolutionary theory
of a vast subterranean habitat and its significance for life's origins
on our planet and the possibility of live elsewhere in the universe" by
Copernicus, Springer-Verlag, 1999.
Whole gooey tons of life.
Well, this new book of Thomas Gold's is getting a lot of play. I just read
it. All 208 pages of it. And I'll say this for it: if it's true, it's certainly
Here's the pitch. "Fossil fuels" aren't fossils. They don't come from
squished dinosaurs or ancient buried vegetation. Hydrocarbons like methane and
crude oil are inherent planetary substances. They're basically the same
material as the "carbonaceous chondrites" seen in asteroids, or the methane and
ethane seen in Jupiter and its moons. The earth is heavily loaded with various
primeval oils and tarry goos, which have been slowly cooked out of its crust
over the eons by radioactive heat from the core.
Here's where it gets weirder. The substances we know as oil and natural gas
have been streaming up toward the planet's surface since the planet first
formed. When this hydrocarbon muck is still about ten kilometers down, it gets
caught within pores of the stone by primeval archaic bacteria. These bugs live
inside rock, they eat this primeval asteroid goo, and they turn it into the
stuff we call "coal" and "crude oil." They are chemosynthetic organisms, and
they thrive in extremely high, oxygen-free temperatures, in vast, impossible
numbers. They're probably the original form of life on Earth.
Primitive earthly life probably started inside the Earth, in these flowing
high-energy streams of goo and muck, long before the surface was colonizable.
Oil and gas looks like organic products to a biochemist, but that's not because
they are fossilized. It's because they've been basically fermented by a
previously unsuspected ecosystem of archaic bacteria. These ancient bugs
basically saturate the entire rocky crust of the planet. By weight, they're
probably eighty percent of all living things on Earth.
Even though coal sometimes has fossils in it, coal is not fossil material.
Basically, coal is mats of peat that got into the way of an ongoing hydrocarbon
flow, and have been fossilized with carbon the way a petrified tree is
fossilized with silicon.
And that's just the start of Gold's theory. These primeval bugs give off
enough fizzy foul-smelling gas to break rocks and start earthquakes. Most metal
deposits: gold, zinc, silver etc == are not caused by flowing water or lava, but
by flowing hydrocarbons filtered and transformed by bugs.
Most planets in the solar system share Earth's origins, so if they have life,
it is probably single- celled and subterranean. And they probably do have
He's a physicist, and a very blue-sky thinker. Gold was the first guy to
theorize that pulsars were rotating neutron stars. He theorized that the early
Earth might have flipped its axis of rotation (which, apparently, it did). Gold
has been saying for quite a long time that oil and gas are basic planetary
substances, not fossils. But now he's put together his best arguments in book
length, and his thesis is considerably embroidered with many sub- theories and
We're never going to "run out of oil." It's not possible. Left to
themselves long enough, most depleted oil patches will slowly fill back up.
Because they're not buried deposits. They're lakes, backed up from streams
originating far deeper down. The planet would have smothered in its own CO2
like Venus a long time ago, except that the surface biosphere has been laboring
mightly to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and save it in massive fossil
chalkbeds up on the surface.
Who is Thomas Gold? Well, he's not an insane crank.
Even if we did run out of oil, there are enough methane
hydrates oozing up in ocean sediments to make all known oil reserves on Earth
seem minor. There's probably "oil" or "coal" under almost everything
, any kind of non-porous rock that can catch the flow and hold it down
for a while. It's just that mistaken geological assumptions have led us to
drill for oil in a minor variety of places.
Here are some reasons not to dismiss the whole scheme immediately:
- Plate tectonics is a weirder idea than this, and that wasn't accepted
until the 1960s.
- Geology's full of ancient dogma because geology's a very old science.
We thought we understood the earth long before we caught on to the truth about
the other planets.
Planets and asteroids have plenty of goop that looks like coal, natural gas,
- If oil is a fossil, then how come oil beds are so often full of helium?
Helium is an astrophysics thing; there aren't any plants or animals that
- It took us until the 1970s to realize that the earth has chemosynthetic
life forms. But these creatures live around the tectonic rifts that girdle the
That's the biggest habitat on earth. These vent creatures are totally
dependent on weird, thermophile bacteria.
And they're not just based on volcanic seeps either, because these biota have
also been discovered around underwater oil seeps.
- Once people started looking for subterranean bacteria, they've have been
able to find living bacteria as far down as they've been able to drill.
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
Extraordinary statements require extraordinary evidence. There's a lot less
evidence than I'd like to see in this book. For one counter-argument, I couldn't
help but notice that Gold's "pores" in the stony Earth have whatever qualities
he needs, whenever he needs them to make his case. Sometimes they're fast,
sometimes they're slow, sometimes they're chemical filters, sometimes they're
high-speed conduits, sometimes they're tiny, sometimes they're oceanic,
sometimes they're steady- state, sometimes they're catastrophic, and so on.
Granted, the Earth has a lot of natural variety, but that's not for our
But if he's half-right about any of the stuff he says here, the human race
knows nothing worth knowing about the biosphere and carbon dioxide. If he's
right, we've been utterly ignorance throughout the twentieth century about the
most basic facts of planetary life.
EVEN IF IT'S IN INFINITE SUPPLY,
IT STILL STINKS AND IT'S STILL
SCREWING UP THE WEATHER!
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O