Thursday, August 11, 2016

A World Made Of Coccolithophores And Foraminifera

A tweet by Andrew Alden sent me to this paper:

Factors regulating the Great Calcite Belt in the Southern Ocean and its biogeochemical significance- William Balch et al 2016

The Great Calcite Belt (GCB) is a region of elevated surface reflectance in the Southern Ocean (SO) covering ~16% of the global ocean and is thought to result from elevated, seasonal concentrations of coccolithophores. Here we describe field observations and experiments from two cruises that crossed the GCB in the Atlantic and Indian sectors of the SO. We confirm the presence of coccolithophores, their coccoliths, and associated optical scattering, located primarily in the region of the subtropical, Agulhas, and Subantarctic frontal regions.

Great Calcite Belt, Coccolithophores - tiny unicellular phytoplankton covering 16% of the global ocean...

how can one not go back to that wonderful essay by Stephen Jay Gould on Crazy Old Randolph Kirkpatrick

Kirkpatrick was an eccentric natural historian who in the early 1900's  proposed an outlandish theory that the earth was made up of Nummulites, a group of the protist organism Foraminifera. He saw nummulites everywhere he looked, in the global ocean, the entire crust, even in igneous rocks. He concluded that the earth's shell must have been made up of nummulites., Heat from the earth's interior fusing them together and fluids injecting them with silica to form the hard rock we recognize as the igneous variety..

Rocks are sometimes classified as fossiliferous and unfossiliferous, but all are fossiliferous... Really, then, there is, broadly speaking, one rock..... The lithosphere is veritably a silicated nummulosphere.

He thought that nummulites were one of earth's earliest creatures and gave them the name Eozoon and with a flourish wrote:

"After the discovery of the nummulitic nature of nearly the whole island of Porto Santo, of the buildings. wine presses, soil, etc., the name Eozoon portosantum seemed fitting one for the fossils. When the igneous rocks of Madeira were likewise found to be nummulitic, Eozoon atlanticum seemed a more fitting name."

"If Eozoon, after taking in the world, had sighed for more worlds to conquer, its fortunes would have surpassed those of Alexander, for its desires would have been realized. When the empire of the nummulites was found to extend to space a final alteration of name to Eozoon universum apparently became necessary."

We remain trapped in perceiving our world as one teeming with large multicellular animals. But the world is much more. It is a world full of microbes and unicellular eukaryotes too. These creatures occurs in numbers that dwarf our metazoan presence. They are ubiquitous in the surface ocean layers, in the sunlight plankton zone, and their skeletons blanket the depths, creating a layer of ooze covering the sea bed. Their life and evolutionary cycles modulate in large part the global carbon cycle.

Randolph Kirpatrick in his feverish imagination saw an empire of Nummulites.. not too far fetched from the Great Calcite Belt of Coccolithophores covering 16% of the global ocean.

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