Notes from behind the levee

Before floods, there were puddles

A quick survey of what early life did to Earth

A quick survey of what early life did to Earth

It is quite a backdrop to describe the earth and humanity on the cusp of an epic flood.  The idea is real enough for me, but the notion doesn’t leave much opening as to where to go next.

In fact my thought to begin here was the understanding that we are in the midst of a powerful moment in this planet’s biosphere.  Maybe reaching back as far as we can, we may uncover perspective, or even understanding that life has a symbiotic relationship to its environment, both impact and change one another, in a continual manner.

Earth has spent at least 3.5 or possibly up to 4.1 billion years of 4.54 as a planet developing and re-configuring life.  That 75 – 90% of the time since Earth was a dusty, plasma ball of magma being pummelled relentless by other fragments

We are well aware that there is a serious scientific search for another instance of abiogenesis, to prove that there is natural process of life arising from non-living matter.  As phenomenal as such a discovery may be, life itself must be recognized as a force radically altering its environment, in as much as life adjusts itself to opportunities and difficulties it faces.

cyanobacteria – alone in the pool

One of the great biological moments was the evolution of cyanobacteria, a biological phylum of blue-green bacteria that produce energy from photosynthesis, which is thought to have happened early in the development of life, some 3.5 billion years ago.

Before photosynthesis, there was virtually no oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere.  For most of two billion years, no oxygen produced by cyanobacteria was left unfixed, or found in the atmosphere.

The first billion was rapidly removed from the atmosphere by weathering of reducing minerals, most notably iron which gave Australia and other places their distinctive reds.

The next 1/2 billion years saw oxygen absorbed into the oceans, and then oxygen was absorbed by land surfaces for another 200 million years, still not significantly changing the oxygen levels in the atmosphere.

It was almost 2 billion years after the earliest life forms that atmospheric oxygen levels started to increase.  Its impact was far reaching.

cooling off with oxygen

The primoridal world’s high atmospheric methane  was the byproduct of volcanic activity and early microbial life. As a greenhouse gas, methane trapped the sun’s atmospheric energy and kept the Earth warm.

To the Earth’s atmosphere of that time, oxygen was a pollution by-product of photosynthesis that oxidized atmospheric methane (a strong greenhouse gas) to carbon dioxide (a weaker one) and water.

The changeover from methane to oxygen-rich atmosphere triggering the Huronian glaciation, 2.4 to 2.1 billion years ago, the longest ice age ever, lasting 300–400 million years.

life to the shadows and underground

As its levels increased, oxygen brought about what is known as the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE) and with it, a severe extinction event for obligate anaerobe, bacterial organisms killed by oxygen.  Up to then, most organisms had been anaerobic so their existence was significantly altered.

Still, life adapts.  Such microbial lifeform has been driven into hiding, away from from oxygen exposure.  In 2015 researchers from Yale University reported evidence of bacteria living as deep as 12 miles (19km) underground.  It attests to life ‘penetration’, durability, and diversity.

Then there are species such as the nematode worm, an extremely hardy form of life, able to go into what’s called dauer stasis, and withstand nearly any condition for any duration.  They’ve been found thriving 1.5 km underground, and survived the 2003 explosion of the space shuttle Colombia, suggesting them as a candidate lifeform that could withstand transfer between planetary bodies on meteors blasted by older astroid strikes.

Then there’s also the complexity of large deep sea vent ecosystems, with established chemosynthesis.


Following these biological progressions and human scientific study gives a much more diversified understanding of the capabilities of life.  Its resilience is exceptional.

some ice in your soup?

Although oxygen gave them an advantage, aerobic lifeforms still had the challenge of surviving a snowball Earth.  Many aerobic species were probably also lost at the onset of the first and longest known ice age.  Yet for the Earth and its surviving lifeforms, this era brought positive changes as well.

Water was deposited on the flat planes and the highest mountains and collected into ice sheets.  Seasonal melting, and harsh winter cycles continued to pull water from the oceans.  Sea levels drop dramatically.  These slow-moving glaciers and their runoff streams scoured the land on which they sat, heavy with the weight of thousands of metres of ice.  Ocean floors, exposed to the oxygen rich atmosphere gave further geological formation opportunities.

Surface life was still primarily a marine phenomena.  The liquid water that remained during this glacial period was also significantly colder overall. Cold waters holds more nutrients than warm waters, and phytoplankton tend to flourish where waters are cooler. In turn plentiful food promotes the diversification of zooplankton, a range of organism that feed on the phytoplankton.

hunger as a definition of life

Such diversity in Earth’s life marks a profound respect for its ability to adapt.  It seems that life naturally seeks out ways to harness energy.   Life has at its core fire, a burning need to seek, consume and release all available energy stores.

Biology might just be the animation and vessel of fire. Another viewpoint is to see our bodies are colonies of symbiotic bacteria.  We are just one product of our evolution and many traits comes with the lineage. Today’s human obsession to consume and spread is a built in trigger. We’re just better at it.

biological minerals

Oxygen did more than drive some life to the shadows and underground. It is estimated that the Great Oxygenation Event and its aftermath were responsible for more than 2,500 new minerals of less than 5000 minerals found on Earth.

The increased oxygen concentrations provided  huge tremendous changes in the nature of chemical interactions between rocks, sand, clay, and other geological substrates and the Earth’s air, oceans, and other surface waters.

nitrogen cycle

These early bacteria also began the nitrogen cycle, which changed atmospheric nitrogen into chemical format usable in the generation of amino acids, proteins, RNA and DNA. This significant chemical contribution microbial life gave life on Earth the opportunity to develop biological complexity.


The Nitrogen Cycle

Energy consumption

Despite the advantages of natural recycled organic matter enabled in the nitrogen cycle, life had remained energetically limited until the widespread availability of oxygen. This breakthrough in metabolic evolution greatly increased the free energy supply to living organisms, having a truly global environmental impact; mitochondria evolved after the GOE.

So there was a certain game-changing that happened with the wide-scale establishment of photosynthesis and atmospheric oxygen levels to 20%.  A poisoning of early Earth’s methane atmosphere with oxygen opened the door to a new, more complex biosphere.

With more energy available from oxygen, organisms had the means for new, more complex morphology. This in turn helped drive evolution through interaction between organisms.

pass the baton – microbial soup to symbiotic biped

There has been a significant investment towards preparing the Earth for the second known, planet-changing, super-species that humans have become.

Life has already made untold changes made to the Earth and its biosphere over billions of years and species.  Not since life first began on the planet, has such a significant biological power been introduced into the recipe.

Add to the older formula, humans’ ability to make planet-wide changes in centuries, instead of over billions of years.

intelligence – the experimental mutation

Intelligence may be a natural by-product of life and a brain to control biological function in animals.  It is to be seen if the higher function brain is as successful an evolutionary development as sight sensory, circulatory systems or photosynthesis.  Combined with fine motor skills in humans, intelligence has unleashed extreme biological potential, an unmitigated success for life.  Finally there is a species that can build the ark, and further the primary imperative, to take our life beyond this biosphere.

It’s pretty likely that a sentient species will prevail atop this or any biospheric chain.  We must do our part to ensure that species is ours.  We are either within centuries of extinction, or turning the corner on the next millions & billions of years.

If we fail, we can be certain, life will simply start from where we leave off.

Aroh Wendelin

Age of Noah – as predicted

Now at the beginning of the 21st century, humanity is finally facing the possibility, or even likelihood of a world-wide flood.

It is part of the Western world’s childhood, the Great Flood.

In Genesis 6 – 9, Noah becomes an unlikely hero and convinces those around him to prepare.  The image above is the 16th century wood etching by Jost Amman.  It shows a busy scene prior to launch.  The ark and its content were enough to protect those on board from the  “rain (which) fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights”. — Genesis 7:12


The flood myth is a part of many cultures.  It is probably a story as old as any human settlement on the banks of a river.  Three surviving Babylonian deluge epics – Ziusudra (Eridu Genesis) – Utnapishtim (Epic of Gilgamesh) – Atrahasis (Epic of Atrahasis) are historically linked to river floods in Shuruppak, Uruk, Kish dated to ca. 2900 BCE.  Oral stories of devastating floods surely pre-date that.

Floods and flood heroes are found in literature worldwide, including the Sumerian epics, Deucalion in Greek mythology, the Genesis flood narrative, the Hindu texts of Vishnu Purana and Mahabharata, Bergelmir in Norse Mythology, and in the lore of the K’iche’ and Maya peoples in Mesoamerica, the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa tribe of Native Americans in North America, the Muisca, and Cañari Confederation, in South America.

Study of human civilization shows the earliest settlements such as Çatalhöyük to be  10,000 years old.  Human are said to have left Africa 60 – 70,000 years ago, and modern humans have existed as a species some 200,000 years.  There have been innumerable floods in all areas of the world in that time.  partial flood list




The Big One

Only in the last few years can humans understand and see that an exceptional flood in an entire region is still only a partial flood.  What about this notion that the entire world be flooded?

Now at the beginning of the 21st century, humanity is finally facing the possibility, or even likelihood of a world-wide flood.  And like river floods that travel for weeks from upland deluges to coastal city devastation, humans are watching the building flood that is coming with climate change.  We see an inevitable global flood coming, threatening our lifestyle, and possibly our existence.


Missing from our contemporary flood story is the hero.  Where is Noah in today’s flood threat?   A single hero will not be able overcome problems so large, certainly not alone.  Instead the world has a myriad of people working towards an advanced knowledge of our complex world.  It is among them we’ll find heroes. Who will captain the ship is not as important or interesting as the epic measures needed for an ark.

What preparations are being done to save something of this world from the growing threat?  Who is studying, preparing, and building the ark?  What will be on it?  What will it be like when it again finds land?

Science is collecting an understanding of our world, the symbiosis of our planet with the life that flourishes on it.  Will it have enough of a grasp to be able to represent to biosphere?

An examination into these developments is a worthy target, as we move ever closer to the Age of Noah.



Aroh Wendelin