Geopoetry

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Kat Allen, a researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, started writing poems about science as a graduate student, in part to make studying for qualifying exams less painfully serious. At Lamont, she sent out a poem with each week’s reminder about the geochemistry department’s coffee social hour. Her “Geopoetry” blog grew from there because, she says, “It was just too much fun to stop.” Kat is currently an instructor in Columbia’s Frontiers of Science program.
Updated: 3 weeks 4 days ago

Finding Pluto

Fri, 06/26/2015 - 10:00
 JHUAPL/SwRI

This summer, a space probe that has been traveling for 9 years will finally reach Pluto. Image: JHUAPL/SwRI

 

Far away, a beloved dot

Arcs through cold and shrouded spaces,

Not lonely, as we had once thought,

But circled by more rocky faces:

Charon, Nix, and Hydra found,

Classified as “dwarf” or pseudo,

And though such bodies now abound,

None sparks wonder quite like Pluto.

On the hunt for Planet X,

Tombaugh found a ball of light,

Among a crowd of tiny specks;

Imaginations soon took flight.

Elusive is this outerworld;

Nine years ago we took a dare –

To deepest space, a scouter hurled

… and soon it will be there!

 

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Further reading:

Pluto-bound probe faces its toughest challenge: finding Pluto, Witze (2015) Nature

NASA Mission: New Horizons to Pluto

This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

 

“Faux pause”

Fri, 06/12/2015 - 09:30
 Maintenance workers on an ocean buoy, NOAA.

The global ocean buoy network has been expanding in recent years. Accounting for small, consistent offsets between temperatures measured by buoys and by ships reveals a greater global warming trend than previously calculated for the past 15 years. Image: Maintenance workers on an ocean buoy, NOAA.

 

New data support the conclusion

The “hiatus” was mostly illusion.

They say that the keys

Are the poles and the seas …

The next job: reduce the confusion.

 

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Further reading:

Global warming “hiatus” never happened, study says, Wendel (2015) EOS

Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus, Karl et al. (2015) Science

This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

MESSENGER

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 11:19

 

MESSENGER's last image of Mercury. (NASA)

MESSENGER’s last image of Mercury. (NASA)

 

Alien orbits you plied,

While we vicariously spied

A distant globe …

Oh, tough little probe!

It’s been a wonderful ride.

 

 

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Further reading:

MESSENGER’s last image

This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

An Earth Epic

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 09:30
 Ricardo Ramalho

Photo: Ricardo Ramalho

I hear that the Archean Earth

Spewed lava and was hot,

(While much later, “Snowball Earth,”

Apparently was not),

Some have said that life sprung out of

Spreading-ridge-type stew,

Photosynthesis seems likely

Based on carbon records, too.

Crust was forming, oceans warming,

Stromatolites came later,

(We have to wait a long, long time

for T-Rexes, Fish, and Gators)

The Prot’rozoic was really wild,

Stromatolites went crazy,

Our atmosphere gained oxygen,

The rest is a bit hazy.

Super-duper continents

and Banded-Iron formed;

Glacial stuff beneath cap carbs

Say Earth cooled and warmed.

Half a billion years ago

Is when it gets exciting …

Suddenly, life took a leap!

All living, breeding, fighting.

Brachs and Crinoids, Bryozoans,

Weirdo shells galore,

Nautiloids (like giant dunce caps)

Roamed the ocean floor.

Then disaster strikes them down,

(This happens four more times)

And we soon approach some names

That are difficult to rhyme.

Gondwana drifts to the South Pole,

and glaciers spread like malls,

The world was likely colder,

and sea level took a fall.

So ends the years of trilobites

(and the Ordovician)

But soon we get new forms of life,

And we can all go fishin’!

Finally the land joins in,

And starts to grow green stuff,

(are you still enjoying this,

or have you had enough?)

More death, more life, more death again,

While giant mountains grow,

(we think this lowered CO2,

but no one really knows).

The Carboniferous was lush,

(that’s where our coal is from!)

Amazing bugs and dinosaurs,

(though some say they were dumb).

Gymnosperms and vertebrates,

Then the grimmest death so far,

Then Triassic life recovered,

with reptiles big as cars.

We leave aragonitic seas behind

And move towards today,

Though continents were not in place,

(that great Tethys seaway).

About 100 million years ago

Deep sea carbonates abound,

So now the ocean’s buffered well,

(and planktics can be found!)

And THEN Earth has a real bad day,

An asteroid hits hard,

Fire-balls and darkened skies,

Life is burned and charred.

(Holy cow, this is quite long,

let’s finish it already!) …

Cenozoic history

was anything but steady.

It started hot, they also say

that CO2 was high;

Wimpy mammals take the lead,

(I hear that bats could fly).

Himalayas cause a ruckus,

Gateways open/close,

We start to get some glaciers,

And cold, deep water flows.

From the Greenhouse to the Icehouse

Now we’re really getting chilly,

Then humans come along (that’s us)

and everything gets silly!

So there you have it, Earth through time,

History deep and long,

I surely skipped a lot of stuff,

And may have got some wrong.

I hope if you’re still reading

that your brain is not too vexed,

Now it’s time to face the future,

…. I wonder what is next!

 

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Further reading:

See the geologic record.

This poem was first published on the author’s website on May 22, 2009.

This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Buzz Kill

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 10:40
 Dave Goulson (SCIENCE)

Recent studies indicate that bees are increasingly stressed by toxins, pathogens, and lack of food. Image: Dave Goulson (Science)

 

To feed our own species, we race,

Wild herbage, corn rows replace,

The Earth’s shrinking bower:

To insects, that flower

Is not just a beautiful face.

 

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Further reading:

Bee declines driven by combined stress from parasites, pesticides, and lack of flowers, Goulson et al. 2015 Science

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Abyssal Rhythm

Fri, 03/13/2015 - 10:00
 ADAPTED BY P. HUEY/SCIENCE

When sea level drops, pressure at mid-ocean ridges decreases, which may influence the production of ocean crust. A new study suggests that the pattern of hills on the sea floor reflects the timing of sea-level change during ice age cycles. Illustration: adapted by P. Huey/Science

 

Since the dawn of mankind, I imagine we’ve gazed

In wonder and awe at the sky’s starry crown;

More recently, we have been deeply amazed

By the long-obscured, staggering view looking down

To the depths of the sea, through crust, and below

Where rock moves like taffy, dark forge of the Earth,

Great molten sculptures and stark chasms grow;

A womb steeped in intrigue, the mantle gives birth

To breath-taking mountains, and wide rolling hills,

We humans gaze down from our ships, our sea cruises

We probe this vast landscape with sound waves and drills;

From ridges of awesome proportions, crust oozes

With a rhythm, it seems, that’s tied to the sun!

Our planet’s history, scrawled on ripped pages

Of rock and of sediments, piled by the ton

Rippled and riddled with tales of ice ages;

From ridges revealed, a pattern discovered

Orbital rhythms in a seafloor slice,

The pulse of the planet, a sculpture uncovered,

Does the deep earth exhale in concert with ice?

 

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Further reading:

How climate influences sea floor topography, Conrad 2015 Science

Glacial cycles drive variations in the production of ocean crust, Crowley et al. 2015 Science

Mid-ocean ridge eruptions as a climate valve, Tolstoy 2015 Geophysical Research Letters

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

 

The Most Astonishing Thing

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 09:00
A super-massive black hole, roughly 12 billion times as massive as our sun, has been discovered at the center of a bright quasar. The light reaching us now from that distant location has been traveling for billions of years, and thus offers a glimpse into the earliest stages of the universe.

A super-massive black hole, roughly 12 billion times as massive as our sun, has been discovered at the center of a bright quasar. The light reaching us now from that distant location has been traveling for billions of years, and thus offers a glimpse into the earliest stages of the universe. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

The most astonishing thing about the universe, in my eyes,

Is not merely its gargantuan, unfathomable size,

But the way its vastness ferries gorgeous, primordial light,

So that as we look up into the night,

The farther afield our gaze penetrates, the higher we climb,

The farther we can see back in time.

Like ancient missives carefully tucked into a bottle,

Flashes of history race towards us full-throttle,

At the speed of light traversing a fabric expanding,

These waves touch our shores, and fuel our understanding

Of quasars and black holes, the light and the dark,

The Very Beginning, the bright cosmic spark

From which all this sprang – upon us, the story rains:

Of how we arose with star stuff in our veins.

 

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Further reading:

Gigantic Black Hole Discovered from the Dawn of Time, National Geographic

An ultraluminous quasar with a twelve-billion-solar-mass black hole at redshift 6.30, Wu et al. (2015) Nature

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Mysterious Demise of an Australian Thunder Bird

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 08:00
 Ann Musser @ Australian Museum.

Genyornis newtoni, one of the great “thunder birds” of Australia, went extinct about 50 thousand years ago, for reasons that are still not clear. Image: Ann Musser @ Australian Museum.

 

Here, mankind and death coincide,

But everyone’s still mystified …

Geologists find

This thunder bird’s kind

Were lost as Australia dried.

 

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Further reading:

Hydrological transformation coincided with megafaunal extinction in central Australia, Cohen et al. (2015) Geology

Drying lakes linked to extinctions, Nature

 

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Birth of a Desert

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 10:47

 

 apdesign)

About 10 thousand years ago, North Africa’s Sahara Desert was a wide, green landscape. (photo credit: apdesign)

 

North Africa once was quite green,

From ancient lakes, clues we can glean:

Earth’s orbit has changed,

And rains rearranged …

Creating a vast, desert scene.

 

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Further reading:

End of the African Humid Period, News & Views by Peter deMenocal (2015) Nature Geoscience

The time-transgressive termination of the African Humid Period, Shanahan et al. (2015) Nature Geoscience

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Lobsters of the Land

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 08:00
 Science Magazine, O_LUKYANOV/ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

The eyes of crustaceans like mantis shrimp (left) and insects like horseflies (right) may have a common origin in the ancestral group “Pancrustacea.” Photo: Science Magazine, O_LUKYANOV/ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

 

Life arose from the sea, so they say,

And Earth’s family tree is still branching today.

Our view of the old structure way down below:

Mysterious, shrouded, a faded tableau.

A mandible here, a common gene there,

From shards of the past, a crusty forebear!

Butterflies, beetles, scorpions, fleas

Have much more in common with life in the seas

Than with other critters that you might expect,

Like spiders and millipedes, things kids collect.

The closer we look, the weirder it gets,

But it also makes sense – the twin silhouettes,

Those strange compound eyes, a similar brain …

Meet Pancrustacea, the base of the chain!

Crustaceans and insects, shrimp and lacewing,

Peas in a pod that sometimes will sting.

Cockroaches, grasshoppers, flies all a-flutter,

Think on them as you eat lobster with butter!

 

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Further reading:

All in the (Bigger) Family, Pennisi (2015) Science

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Celestial Music

Fri, 01/02/2015 - 17:51
 G. Perez, IAC, SMM

The field of astroseismology provides new insight into stars’ structure. Image: G. Perez, IAC, SMM

 

Did you ever watch stars, and hear distant singing?

New telescopes see that the galaxy’s ringing!

Listen now carefully, open your ears

To Johannes Kepler’s great “music of spheres.”

 

Celestial music, slight changes in brightness,

Give star-gazers feelings of joy and of lightness,

But even more thrilling is what we are learning,

Like what the deep cores of red giants are burning!

 

Formation of elements, galaxy nascence …

There’s no doubt about it:  we’ve got good vibrations!

 

 

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Further reading:

Kepler’s Surprise: The Sounds of the Stars, Cowen, Nature 2012

The Sun and the Stars: Giving Light to Dark Matter, Casanellas and Lopes, Modern Physics Letters A, 2014

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University. “Celestial Music” was first published on the author’s website in 2012.

 

Mysterious Mineral

Fri, 12/05/2014 - 08:30
Bridgmanite was identified in a shock-melt vein within the Tenham meteorite. Photograph by Chi Ma, Caltech

Bridgmanite was identified in a shock-melt vein within the Tenham meteorite. The mineral was named in honor of Percy Bridgman, who pioneered the diamond anvil cell for high-pressure research. Photograph by Chi Ma, Caltech

 

So common, yet far out of sight,

Mineralogists longed for a bite.

Formed deep inside,

Or when rocks collide,

At long last, a name: bridgmanite!

 

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Further reading:

Discovery of bridgmanite, the most abundant mineral in Earth, in a shocked meteorite, Tschauner et al. (2014) Science

Earth’s Most Abundant Mineral Finally Gets a Name, National Geographic

Space Rock Sheds Light on Mysterious Mineral on Earth, LiveScience

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

 

Ancestors

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 09:00
These lithic artifacts were discovered at almost 4,500 meters elevation in the Peruvian Andes, at the highest-altitude Pleistocene archaeological site yet identified in the world. Figure by E. Cooper, in Rademaker et al. (2014) Science.

These lithic artifacts were discovered at almost 4,500 meters elevation in the Peruvian Andes, at the highest-altitude Pleistocene archaeological site yet identified in the world. Figure by E. Cooper, in Rademaker et al. (2014) Science.

 

We are high mountain people, hunters and artists,

Our view from this base camp is brilliant and clear.

Cold, thin air sweeps the rocky plateau;

You need a strong heart to live here.

 

Vicuña, guanaco, taruka our prey,

With razor-sharp points, upon them we close,

Then blaze up a fire, take rest, and prepare:

These creatures we skin to the toes.

 

Out of the ice age and up from the valley,

Testing the limits of body and spirit.

Descendants: a challenge before you stands tall;

Will you adapt, surmount it, or fear it?

 

Our tale has been weathered; you’re straining to see us

In smudges of smoke, in scattered remains,

Discarded tools, a wide, ancient landscape,

And one piece yet living: our blood in your veins.

 

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Further reading:

Oldest High-Altitude Human Settlement Discovered in Andes, LiveScience

Paleoindian settlement of the high-altitude Peruvian Andes, Rademaker et al. (2014) Science

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

 

 

Sun-gazing

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 10:00
 De Pontieu et al., Science 2014

Dopplergrams from the NASA’s space telescope IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph) revealing detailed evidence of “twist” between the sun’s surface and outer atmosphere. These phenomena may play a role in driving the temperature difference between the sun’s surface (~6000 K) and the sun’s outer atmosphere (millions of degrees). The reason for this enormous temperature gradient is not fully understood (a puzzle known as the “coronal heating problem”). Image: De Pontieu et al., Science 2014

 

By Galileo’s careful hand, sunspot details are exquisite,

Through eye of forehead, eye of mind beholds what body can not visit.

If only he could see the sights now rendered from Earth’s outer space,

Ultraviolet sunscapes – Oh, to see his raptured face!

High above Earth’s atmosphere, IRIS probes the edges of our star,

A telescope in orbit, through its lenses, we see far.

Six thousand Kelvin screams the surface, roiling plasma, like hellish seas,

Hotter still, the sun’s corona: millions of degrees!

Mysterious, this source of heat that drives the solar wind our way …

High-speed jets, coronal loops and nanoflares may be at play.

What a thrill to gaze through space with spectrographic eyes,

Fueled by human wonder and a zeal to probe the skies.

 

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Further reading:

Eyeing the Sun, Science Magazine

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Chemical silence

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 08:26

 Elkhorn coral colony near Akumal, Mexico. John Bruno (Science).

Photo: Elkhorn coral colony near Akumal, Mexico. John Bruno (Science).

 

What if you couldn’t smell smoke?

Or detect flirty signs from a bloke?

Imagine the cost

Of faculties lost,

Of signals that deafness would cloak …

On reefs, it’s chemical cues

That life-forms will commonly use;

With acid on rise,

A fatal surprise:

What senses might reef-critters lose?

 

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Further reading:

Ocean acidification foils chemical signals, Science

 

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

 

Aureococcus

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 09:00

 

Aerial view of a brown tide caused by Aureococcus anophagefferens. Long Island. Photo by Chris Gobler.

Aerial view of a brown tide caused by Aureococcus anophagefferens. Photo by Chris Gobler.

 

On skin, it’s barely a freckle I’d make,

But baby, en masse, we turn seas opaque!

Come darkness, come famine, come poison or flood,

My kind can flourish in any old crud.

I may be a tiny and brainless brown cell,

But my tactics are brilliant; I’m doing quite well.

So, “higher” life-forms, with deep-furrowed brow,

I’ve made my move … what will you do now?

 

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Further reading (on what humans are doing now …):

Like Weeds of the Sea, ‘Brown Tide’ Algae Exploit Nutrient-Rich Coastlines, Earth Institute

De novo assembly of Aureococcus anophagefferens transcriptomes reveals diverse responses to the low nutrient and low light conditions present during blooms, Frischkorn et al., Frontiers in Microbiology

 

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Graceful, Tiny, Toothy Ancestors

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 09:00
An artist's illustration of the tree-dwelling mammal Xianshou songae (by Zhao Chuang). The discovery of three new Jurassic species suggests that mammals evolved earlier and diversified more rapidly thank previously thought.

An artist’s illustration of the tree-dwelling mammal Xianshou songae (illustration by Zhao Chuang). The discovery of three new Jurassic species suggests that mammals evolved earlier and diversified more rapidly than previously thought.

 

With body spry, tail curly,

This mammal showed up early.

Did Xianshou squeak?

If bones could speak …

These might say “I’m squirrely!”

 

 

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Further reading:

Chisel-toothed beasts push back origin of mammals, National Geographic

Three new Jurassic euharamiyidan species reinforce early divergence of mammals, Nature

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

 

 

Dreadnoughtus

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 07:00
 Jennifer Hall

An artist’s vision of how Dreadnoughtus schrani would have appeared. Credit: Jennifer Hall

 

If you, like me, are something of a paleo-romantic,

Swooning over dinosaurs both fearsome and gigantic,

Come feast your eyes on new reports the bone-hunters have brought us:

“Fearing nothing” means its name – the mighty beast Dreadnoughtus!

Seven times as heavy as Tyrannosaurus rex,

This gentle vegan creature boasted tons of muscle flex.

Patagonian earth under its massive feet would quake,

What a silhouette at dawn a family would make!

Even ‘mongst Titanosaurids, this one breaks the ceiling,

A shoulder blade as tall as I am – God, it sets me reeling.

On top of that, when this one died, it wasn’t yet mature …

How much more would it have grown? We can not be quite sure.

3D-scanning, high-tech models try to help us see one,

But why were creatures bigger then? What was it like to be one?

Children are the best at this, working on all fours,

Today, I think I’ll try it too: fear nothing, shake the floors!

 

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Further reading:

Giant dinosaur unearthed in Argentina, Science SHOT

A Gigantic, Exceptionally Complete Titanosaurian Sauropod Dinosaur from Southern Patagonia, Argentina, Nature

New “Dreadnought” Dinosaur Most Complete Specimen of a Giant, Scientific American

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Erosion, Then Explosion

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 09:00
 Peters & Gaines, Nature, 2012

Illustration: Peters & Gaines, Nature, 2012

When viewing The Great Unconformity,
The result of a vast denudation,
One feels a new sense of enormity …
And above it lie critters crustacean!
Life during this wild explosion,
For armor, developed affinity.
Whence the new ions? Erosion!
Gooey life — meet alkalinity!

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Further reading:

Formation of the “Great Unconformity” as a trigger for the Cambrian explosion, Shanan E. Peters & Robert R. Gaines, Nature, 2012

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

Faint Young Sun

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 09:31
  Science online, J.F. Kasting

Image: Science online, J.F. Kasting

 

Through an ancient looking-glass,
Perhaps you’d see more H2 gas,
And if with denser gas collided,
Greater greenhouse warmth provided.
With faint young sun, would this suffice
To maintain water and not ice?
And when methanogens arrive?
This old debate is much alive.

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Further reading:

Hydrogen-Nitrogen Greenhouse Warming in Earth’s Early Atmosphere, Wordsworth and Pierrehumbert, Science, 2013

This is one in a series of poems written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University