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The plant connection is twofold - plant fossils have provided information on past climates and how they have changed, but also plant growth has been a factor in climate change. The author discusses numerous feedback effects that have been proposed in earth processes. Examples include a negative feedback where higher oxygen levels encouraged vegetation fires thus reducing vegetation burial and reduc This book is largely about various mechanisms that have affected the earth's climate over the eons.
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Examples include a negative feedback where higher oxygen levels encouraged vegetation fires thus reducing vegetation burial and reducing oxygen levels. Many of these effects are speculative and quantification is uncertain, showing just how poorly understood are earth processes. The first vascular plants, which appeared mya, had bare branches but no leaves. Leaves developed 30 my later, and diversified greatly by the start of the Carboniferous period mya.
The homeobox gene KNOX, found in many plants, must be turned off for leaves to develop. The upper surface of the leaf is specialized for gathering light, while stomata on the lower surface control the uptake of carbon dioxide needed for photosynthesis. As the stomata also loose water, plant evolution using the HIC gene, tends to minimize the number of stomata, given the carbon dioxide uptake requirement. Trees in southern England have 40 percent fewer stomata than years ago. Early land plants living in the CO2 rich atmosphere had less than 5 stomata per square millimeter, while plants living in the current relatively low CO2 environment have several hundred per square millimeter.
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More pores mean greater transpiration, providing better cooling and allowing larger leaves which gather more heat. Large leaves are an effect of an atmosphere with lower carbon dioxide concentration. The long-term carbon cycle has CO2 being released by volcanic action which falls with the rain dissolving rock.
The carbonate is used by animals to build shells. When they die, the shells fall to the ocean bottom and subduction eventually buries the carbon deep in the earth. A feedback effect exists whereby warmer temperatures increase weathering, reducing CO2 concentrations and the greenhouse effect - thereby cooling the planet.
When the plants underwent their Paleozoic explosion, the increased fixing of CO2 by plant action caused the CO2 concentration to plummet. Plants dissolve rocks at five times the rate that precipitation does. The oxygen content of the atmosphere rose to about 35 percent, starting in the Devonian, peaking in the Permian, then dropping to as low as 15 percent by the early Triassic.
The high oxygen levels allowed giant insects to evolve. It is apparently thought that the abundant growth of plants during the Carboniferous lead to the higher oxygen levels, and the subsequent stimulation of the long-term carbon cycle brought the oxygen levels back down. The author is not clear on this issue, however. A chapter on the ozone layer introduces the idea that a breakdown of the ozone layer caused the huge extinction at the end of the Permian.
The proposed mechanism revolves around massive volcanism from the Siberian Traps releasing chlorine, warming releasing methane from the oceans and stagnation of the oceans. Plant fossils from Greenland and Sweden suggest a pulse of carbon dioxide, rich in C12, at the Triassic - Jurassic boundary, leading to global warming and a hot climate. The current thinking is that eruptions of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province released massive amounts of carbon dioxide, warming the oceans and releasing the C12 rich methanes from hydrates, in turn causing additional warming. Polar forests existed between 75 and 80 degrees north, fossils dating to 45 mya having been found in the Canadian Arctic.
The preserved leaves are those of the Dawn Redwood. While forests are now limited in their northern expansion by permafrost, at the time temperatures were higher. The forests had to deal with the virtual lack of light during the winter. However, the growth rings average 4 mm, compared to northern larches that currently produce 2 mm of growth per year.
The annual productivity of wood in these polar forests has been calculated as being comparable to the southern forests of Chile. The polar forests were deciduous - the author reviews various theories as to why that was the case. The warm temperatures of the Eocene peaked about 50 mya. They have steady fallen since then, except for a warming period in the Miocene between 15 and 25 mya.
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The cause of the warm Eocene has been proposed as ocean circulation patterns or global warming due to the presence of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor. The author reviews many of the mechanisms of warming. Climate modeling has had little success in reproducing the temperature changes. Most plants a mechanism for photosynthesis that uses a triple carbon molecule, giving the process the name C3 carbon fixation.
Only in the 's was it recognized that some plants use a different mechanism, termed C4 carbon fixation, which makes more efficient use of the available carbon dioxide. C4 is used by largely by grasses, but evolved some 45 times in various species. While only 3 percent of all plant species use C4 carbon fixation, they account for 30 percent of the productivity of the terrestrial biosphere. Strangely, the C4 plants only became significant some 8 mya.
Dec 30, Mandy Haggith rated it it was amazing Shelves: nature. A really good, in-depth explanation of plant evolution and the impact plants have had on the planet. Mar 06, Martin Hayes rated it really liked it. Well written and accessible to the non-scientist, so long as you have a good general knowledge. Feb 18, Marcelv rated it really liked it Shelves: general-interest , science , biology. Accessible but still informative book, which covers a rather overshadowed group of organisms; plants.
Lots of interesting insights into the plant world and the evolution of plants in general. Oct 21, Mareike whereisherhead. Shelves: non-fiction. The Emerald Planet gives a broad introduction to the combined fields of paleontology, geology and botany. The book follows a scheme of introducing leading researchers and their contribution to the field, which I personally find very interesting i. I like to get more of a context of the researchers that lived at round about the same period and how hypotheses developed with time.
Having a basic understanding of geological time and its division into ages definitely helps understanding this book, The Emerald Planet gives a broad introduction to the combined fields of paleontology, geology and botany. Having a basic understanding of geological time and its division into ages definitely helps understanding this book, but this is also remarked at the beginning.
If you're completely new to this field, try and have a geological chart with you to know what period the author is referring to e. Although this is not a textbook, the extensive list of references to scientific papers and other publications is also a fantastic starting point to dive deeper into this field and start studying this topic independently.
Roughly, this book covers: - early and recent investigations into plant evolution - explanations of important chemical networks i. This was enjoyable and readable, with a few terrifying sections concerning climate change. I knew about quite a lot of the scientific discoveries mentioned but I liked reading about the historical context and the people whose pioneering work helped us understand the effect of plant life on earth systems and their ability to tell is about the climates of the past.
Jul 09, Marc Oliver rated it really liked it. I love reading about the evolution of plant life on earth — how plants have been influencing the global climate, the evolution of life in general and how plants themselves are a geological force of nature. However, I could have done with a little less history of scientists, and I would have preferred a more coherent narrative style. Fascinating about plants and also gives a good insight into how science works. There were occasions when the explanations needed more explaining. Dec 19, martina rated it really liked it. Hm I guess I expected more physiology but very interesting anyways.
Jun 14, Mark rated it liked it. This is something in between a history of plants on Earth, and a set of essays on that theme. It does start with the development of leaves, and then moves on to the plants' creation of massively high oxygen levels in the Carboniferous the era of dragonflies with 5' wings so the first two chapters felt like it would be a tour of plant evolution. This is probably far too broad a topic, and in any event is not what we get. Nothing about the evolution of flowers or the period worldwide redwood fore This is something in between a history of plants on Earth, and a set of essays on that theme.
Nothing about the evolution of flowers or the period worldwide redwood forests, for example. Instead the themes are not merely what was important to plants, but when plants were important to the climate, or even our understanding, through fossils, of the climate.
This is a fascinating picture of a dynamic planet, constantly changing in response to a dance between geological processes and plants, which respond and then change the atmosphere and soil in turn. The chapters cover the science with some technical detail, but also the history of the science, and in some cases the quirks of the scientists.
The implications of these sorts of changes to modern day climate change is mentioned more than once, but happily the science is treated as interesting on its own terms, rather than a tool for the present. Some of the research referenced seems cutting edge, which is actually both a complement and a concern--I'd expect at least one or two of the stories to change as we learn more about the distant past. Not a knock on Beerling, who is quite up front about uncertainties.
My only other nitpick is my ebook was missing the full color plates. For my own reference the chapters are below--spoilerized, although the stories are tens of millions of years old, it's probably better to just read the book. This was the "Cambrian explosion" of plants, but before CO2 dropped thin photosynthetic stalks were better at managing water loss and heat.
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Note: Beerling does not use the term 'aerosol can from hell. Interestingly the six months of darkness wasn't apparently the driving force for them dropping their leaves, as it's expensive to regrow them; rather, it was the ability to grow quickly in the summer months that let them outstrip their more stately conifer brethren. Crown of Oblivion. Demon in the Whitelands.
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