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For this essay’s purposes, the most important ecological understanding is that the Sun provides all of earthly life’s energy, either (all except nuclear-powered electric lights driving photosynthesis in greenhouses, as that energy came from dead stars). Today’s hydrocarbon energy that powers our industrial world comes from captured sunlight. Exciting electrons with photon energy, then stripping off electrons and protons and using their electric potential to power biochemical reactions, is what makes Earth’s ecosystems possible. Too little energy, and reactions will not happen (such as ice ages, enzyme poisoning, the darkness of night, food shortages, and lack of key nutrients that support biological reactions), and too much (such as , ionizing radiation, temperatures too high for enzyme activity), and life is damaged or destroyed. The journey of life on Earth has primarily been about adapting to varying energy conditions and finding levels where life can survive. For the many hypotheses about those ancient events and what really happened, the answers are always primarily in energy terms, such as how it was obtained, how it was preserved, and how it was used. For life scientists, that is always the framework, and they devote themselves to discovering how the energy game was played.
Polar forests reappeared in the Eocene after the , and the Eocene’s was the Cenozoic’s warmest time and . Not only did alligators live near the North Pole, but the continents and oceans hosted an abundance and diversity of life that Earth may have not seen before or since. That ten million year period ended as Earth began cooling off and headed toward the current ice age, and it has been called the original Paradise Lost. One way that methane has been implicated in those hot times is that leaves have , which regulate the air they take in to obtain carbon dioxide and oxygen, needed for photosynthesis and respiration. Plants also lose water vapor through their stomata, so balancing gas input needs against water losses are key stomata functions, and it is thought that in periods of high carbon dioxide concentration, . Scientists can count stomata density in fossil leaves, which led some scientists to conclude that carbon dioxide levels were not high enough to produce the PETM, so that produced the PETM and , and the controversy and research continues.
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There is also evidence that life itself can contribute to mass extinctions. When the eventually , organisms that could not survive or thrive around oxygen (called ) . When anoxic conditions appeared, particularly when existed, the anaerobes could abound once again, and when thrived, usually arising from ocean sediments, they . Since the ocean floor had already become anoxic, the seafloor was already a dead zone, so little harm was done there. The hydrogen sulfide became lethal when it rose in the and killed off surface life and then wafted into the air and near shore. But the greatest harm to life may have been inflicted when hydrogen sulfide eventually , which could have been the final blow to an already stressed ecosphere. That may seem a fanciful scenario, but there is evidence for it. There is fossil evidence of during the Permian extinction, as well as photosynthesizing anaerobic bacteria ( and ), which could have only thrived in sulfide-rich anoxic surface waters. Peter Ward made this key evidence for his , and he has implicated hydrogen sulfide events in most major mass extinctions. An important aspect of Ward’s Medea hypothesis work is that about 1,000 PPM of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which might be reached in this century if we keep burning fossil fuels, may artificially induce Canfield Oceans and result in . Those are not wild-eyed doomsday speculations, but logical outcomes of current trends and , proposed by leading scientists. Hundreds of already exist on Earth, which are primarily manmade. Even if those events are “only” 10% likely to happen in the next century, that we are flirting with them at all should make us shudder, for a few reasons, one of which is the awesome damage that it would inflict on the biosphere, including humanity, and another is that it is entirely preventable with the use of technologies .
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