[FPSPACE] another theory by the late Thomas Gold

Robert G Kennedy III robot at ultimax.com
Thu Oct 21 14:38:42 EDT 2004

[Following is a review of yet another one of Thomas Gold's groundbreaking
(literally) ideas, published about 5 years ago. FYI, the "Viridians" are a
sort of anti-carbon-economy green industrial design movement, of which I've
been a member for 6 years. It's more or less run by the noted s-f
cypherpunk author Bruse Sterling. That solar sail/shield concept we
developed back in 2000/2001 was commissioned by the Viridians.]


>Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 18:07:40 -0500
>To: Viridian List <viridian at fringeware.com>
>From: Bruce Sterling <bruces at well.com>
>Reply-To: <bruces at well.com>
>Subject:  Viridian Note 00093: The Deep Hot Biosphere
>Key concepts:  non-biological petroleum, chemosynthetic
>bacteria, deep hot biosphere, Thomas Gold
>Attention Conservation Notice:  Geologists have somehow
>managed to ignore this heretic for thirty years, so why
>should we be listening to him now?  Provokes cognitive
>dissonance of the first order.  Paradigm-rupturing.
>Entries in the Viridian Summer Health Warning Contest:
>Viridian Individual Projects:
>*The Deep Hot Biosphere:* "a renowned scientist's
>revolutionary theory of a vast subterranean habitat and
>its significance for life's origins on our planet and the
>possibility of live elsewhere in the universe"
>by Thomas Gold
>Copernicus, Springer-Verlag, 1999.
>ISBN 0-387-98546-8
>     Well, this new book of Thomas Gold's is getting a lot
>of play.  I just read it.  All 208 pages of it. And I'll
>say this for it: if it's true, it's certainly is
>   Here's the pitch.  "Fossil fuels" aren't fossils.  They
>don't come from squished dinosaurs or ancient buried
>vegetation.   Hydrocarbons like methane and crude oil are
>inherent planetary substances.  They're basically the same
>material as the "carbonaceous chondrites" seen in
>asteroids, or the methane and ethane seen in Jupiter and
>its moons.  The earth is heavily loaded with various
>primeval oils and tarry goos, which have been slowly
>cooked out of its crust over the eons by radioactive heat
>from the core.
>   Here's where it gets weirder.  The substances we know
>as oil and natural gas have been streaming up toward the
>planet's surface since the planet first formed.  When this
>hydrocarbon muck is still about ten kilometers down, it
>gets caught within pores of the stone by primeval archaic
>bacteria.  These bugs live inside rock, they eat this
>primeval asteroid goo, and they turn it into the stuff we
>call "coal" and "crude oil."  They are chemosynthetic
>organisms, and they thrive in extremely high, oxygen-free
>temperatures, in vast, impossible numbers.  They're
>probably the original form of life on Earth.
>       Primitive earthly life probably started inside the
>Earth, in these flowing high-energy streams of goo and
>muck, long before the surface was colonizable.  Oil and
>gas looks like organic products to a biochemist, but
>that's not because they are fossilized.  It's because
>they've been basically fermented by a previously
>unsuspected ecosystem of archaic bacteria.  These ancient
>bugs basically saturate the entire rocky crust of the
>planet.  By weight, they're probably eighty percent of all
>living things on Earth.
>     And that's just the start of Gold's theory.  These
>primeval bugs give off enough fizzy foul-smelling gas to
>break rocks and start earthquakes.  Most metal deposits:
>gold, zinc, silver etc == are not caused by flowing water
>or lava, but by flowing hydrocarbons filtered and
>transformed by bugs.
>    Even though coal sometimes  has fossils in it, coal is
>not fossil material.  Basically, coal is mats of peat that
>got into the way of an ongoing hydrocarbon flow, and have
>been fossilized with carbon the way a petrified tree is
>fossilized with silicon.
>       Most planets in the solar system share Earth's
>origins, so if they have life, it is probably single-
>celled and  subterranean.  And they probably do have life.
>Whole gooey tons of life.
>     We're never going to "run out of oil."  It's not
>possible.  Left to themselves long enough, most depleted
>oil patches will slowly fill back up.  Because they're not
>buried deposits.  They're lakes, backed up from streams
>originating far deeper down.   The planet would have
>smothered in its own CO2 like Venus a long time ago,
>except that the surface biosphere has been laboring
>mightly to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and save it in
>massive fossil chalkbeds up on the surface.
>     Even if we *did* run out of oil, there are enough
>methane hydrates oozing up in ocean sediments to make all
>known oil reserves on Earth seem minor.  There's probably
>"oil" or "coal" under almost *everything*, any kind of
>non-porous rock that can catch the flow and hold it down
>for a while.  It's just that mistaken geological
>assumptions have led us to drill for oil in a minor
>variety of places.
>    Who is Thomas Gold?  Well, he's not an insane crank.
>He's a physicist, and a very blue-sky thinker.  Gold was
>the first guy to theorize that pulsars were rotating
>neutron stars.  He theorized that the early Earth might
>have flipped its axis of rotation (which, apparently, it
>did).  Gold has been saying for quite a long time that oil
>and gas are basic planetary substances, not fossils.  But
>now he's put together his best arguments in book length,
>and his thesis is considerably embroidered with many sub-
>theories and bizarre implications.
>   Here are some reasons not to dismiss the whole scheme
>1.  Plate tectonics is a weirder idea than this, and that
>wasn't accepted until the 1960s.
>2.  Geology's full of ancient dogma because geology's a
>very old science.  We thought we understood the earth long
>before we caught on to the truth about the other planets.
>Planets and asteroids have plenty of goop that looks like
>coal, natural gas, and oil.
>3.  If oil is a fossil, then how come oil beds are so
>often full of helium?  Helium is an astrophysics thing;
>there aren't any plants or animals that metabolize helium.
>4.  It took us until the 1970s to realize that the earth
>has chemosynthetic life forms.  But these creatures live
>around the tectonic rifts that girdle the whole planet.
>That's the biggest habitat on earth.  These vent creatures
>are totally dependent on weird, thermophile bacteria.
>And they're not just based on volcanic seeps either,
>because these biota have also been discovered around
>underwater oil seeps.
>5.  Once people started looking for subterranean bacteria,
>they've have been able to find living bacteria as far down
>as they've been able to drill.
>     Extraordinary statements require extraordinary
>evidence.  There's a lot less evidence than I'd like to
>see in this book. For one counter-argument, I couldn't
>help but notice that Gold's "pores" in the stony Earth
>have whatever qualities he needs, whenever he needs them
>to make his case.   Sometimes they're fast, sometimes
>they're slow, sometimes they're chemical filters,
>sometimes they're high-speed conduits, sometimes they're
>tiny, sometimes they're oceanic, sometimes they're steady-
>state, sometimes they're catastrophic, and so on. Granted,
>the Earth has a lot of natural variety, but that's not for
>our rhetorical convenience.
>   But if he's half-right about any of the stuff he says
>here, the human race knows nothing worth knowing about the
>biosphere and carbon dioxide.  If he's right, we've been
>utterly ignorance throughout the twentieth century about
>the most basic facts of planetary life.
>O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
>O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O

Robert Kennedy, PE

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