Early life on this blue planet evolved more than 500 million years earlier than once thought.
Our Earth is just 4.5 billion years old and we now know ocean photosynthetic plankton began ‘terraforming’ their ocean pastures to sustain life as we know it within just a few million years of Earth’s rocky birth.
Alas humanity has now eradicated as much as 50% of the vital photosynthetic plankton that are responsible for creating and sustaining life on our small blue world.
The image at the top of this post shows banded rock formations in Australia where the red bands are made up of red iron oxide. That red iron oxide was made possible only because of ancient photosynthetic plankton in this Blue Planets earliest oceans were making abundant oxygen that converted iron to iron oxides. Twenty-five years ago researchers had shown definitively that life, our plankton cyano-bacter forebearers, was present more than 3 billion years ago, but just now the timeline for ocean life has been pushed back at least another 500+ million years.
Micro-fossils in that banded rock, long the subject of pompous academic debates, have now been definitively proven and with them the first sprouts on the shrub of life on this blue planet revealed. The complexity of those plankton forbearers is such that surely more primitive life was here 4 billion years ago.
The new paper in the prestigious scientific journal PNAS reveals new history of life on this blue planet and puts to rest the debates over the timing of the beginning of life in our planets ocean pastures. It more importantly shows us the vital importance of the original plankton life that has forever made this planet habitable for all.
“By 3.465 billion years ago, life was already diverse on Earth; that’s clear—primitive photosynthesizers, methane producers, methane users,” author Schopf said in a press release. “These are the first data that show the very diverse organisms at that time in Earth’s history, and our previous.”
“The finding will probably touch off a flurry of new research into these rocks as other researchers look for data that either support or disprove this new assertion,” adds Alison Olcott Marshall, a geobiologist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence a reviewer of the seminal paper.
In the work leading to the new paper, William Schopf, a paleobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles—and the discoverer of the Australian microfossils—teamed up with John Valley, a geoscientist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Valley is an expert in an analytical technique called secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), which can determine the ratio of different forms of carbon in a sample—key to gauging whether it’s organic.
There can remain no further debate on the fact that 4 billion years ago life found a way.
That our plankton forebearers could form on our blue planet so very long ago and very near to the birth of our sun which is said to be merely 4.6 billion years old proves that life is surely a highly favoured process in this universe. Life did not have to wait for some bearded long-haired individual to create it some mere ten thousand years ago, life was happily going on about its business for what we now know is pushing 4 billion years.
Just what life does and why is not in question, life begets life. In following this most certain path life makes itself at home where ever it is found. Life doesn’t merely take up residence like some free-loading prelate, from day one it works for a living for itself and all of its offspring that are to follow. It makes its home habitable.
That the first and foremost form of life on this planet was our photosynthetic plankton forebearers of course offers us a vital family lesson. Those ocean plankton were the good shepherds of their ocean pastures. They remain so today.
There they worked to tend to those blue-green pastures to sustain them as a healthy place for themselves and their offspring, including us. While the original ocean plankton have been around for 4 billion years it’s interesting to note that the original forms are still with us today.
Life on this blue planet did not move on and evolve leaving the old behind to go extinct and to evolve the new. Nature has a very important rule, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
The life that terraformed its oceans into thriving blue-green pastures shows it hasn’t moved on and become a ‘higher life form’. The ancient plankton have remained the same over the ages. Sure they has spawned a lot of generations of children and offered each generation of children the opportunity to evolve and make themselves into something new and special. But mom and dad plankton forebearers have stayed the course and remain the same and steadfast throughout the ages.
Today on this blue planet there is big trouble the likes of which has that has led to mass extinctions of higher life repeatedly throughout the ages. As much as 50% of our ocean plankton has been eradicated ovder the course of our fossil fuel/fool age.
While we might consider ourselves, humanity, a higher life form, that arrogance doesn’t do justice to our forebearers the ancient and still present today vital photosynthetic ocean plankton. We have become a blight on their blue planet with our century long crazed self indulgence in spewing a trillion tonnes of life changing, yesterday’s CO2, indeed plankton killing, CO2 into our common planets atmosphere.
We are like the worst party ever gone wrong and we’ve spoiled the planet for ourselves but more vitally for the life sustaining ocean plankton that gave us life and have sustained life on this blue planet for 4 billion years. The question is whether it is too late to change our despoiling ways and get back to the basics of being good shepherds of our ocean pastures.
You can read everywhere on this blog about how we can and we must change our ways and sustain life for all on our blue planet. Join me.