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The Life & Death of Planet Earth

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 758 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PLANET EARTH How the New
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 15, 2003
      NHNE News List
      Current Members: 758
      Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message.


      How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of Our World

      By Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee

      A Times Book
      6 1/8 X 9 1/4; 288 pages
      15 b7w illustrations
      January 2003


      Order Book via Amazon:

      A landmark work of science that illuminates the second half of the life of
      our planet.

      Imagine our planet far into the future, Carl Sagan's "pale blue dot"
      reduced to a reddish-brown husk, a mere shell of its former self. It seems
      like the stuff of science fiction novels, but it is really of science today.
      We are at a unique moment in our history -- Earth's midlife -- a point at
      which science has given us the capability to examine the birth of our
      planet as well as the forces that will bring about its eventual death.
      Scientists are finally beginning to understand the cycles that make Earth
      work and to write, for the first time, a biography of our planet. This
      revolution in thinking, which finds its voice in this book, is as dramatic,
      in its own way, as the discovery of Earth revolving around the sun.

      Two brilliant scientists -- Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, a
      paleontologist and an astronomer respectively -- are helping to bring this
      groundbreaking work to a popular audience. Vanguards of a new field called
      astrobiology -- the science of how planets and organisms live and die --
      Ward and Brownlee combine the discoveries of astronomers, Earth scientists,
      and those in other specific disciplines. Astronomers are well-poised to
      study the ends of other worlds, while paleontologists can tell us about
      "worlds" that have already ended on our planet, such as the death of
      dinosaurs and other signposts in the rock and fossil record.

      Ward and Brownlee present a comprehensive portrait of Earth's ultimate fate,
      allowing us to understand and appreciate how our planet sustains itself, and
      offer a glimpse at our place in the cosmic order. As they depict the process
      of planetary evolution, they peer deep into the future destiny of Earth,
      showing us that we are living near or shortly after Earth's biological peak.
      Eventually, the process of planetary evolution will reverse itself; life as
      we know it will subside until only the simplest forms remain. In time they,
      too, will disappear. The oceans will evaporate, the atmosphere will degrade,
      and as the sun slowly expands, Earth will eventually meet a fiery end.

      At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is crucial to understand
      Earth's tumultuous history and probable future. Combining groundbreaking
      research with lucid, eloquent writing, this landmark book offers fresh and
      realistic insight into the true nature of our world and how we should best
      steward our planet for the long-term benefit of our species.





      "According to the authors -- who argued in their previous book, Rare Earth,
      that the complex life found on earth is probably unique in the vast expanses
      of the universe -- our planet has a pretty bleak future ahead of it, one
      that is a mirror image of its past. Ward and Brownlee, a geologist and an
      astronomer respectively, claim that human civilization has flowered during
      an 11,000-year warm interlude in a recurring cycle of ice ages. In their
      view, "global warming," while possibly harmful in the short term, may help
      postpone the return of the ice. But not too many thousand years from now,
      skyscraper-high glaciers will again grind across North America as far south
      as New York City, and civilization will be driven toward the equator to
      survive, if not into space. Further into the future, the authors argue, the
      complex give and take between carbon trapped in rocks, water and oxygen in
      the sea, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -- the latter playing the most
      important role in climatic change -- will eventually turn earth into a
      barren sibling of Mars. While the authors don't make an airtight case for
      their claims about how our planet's climate and geology will begin to
      rewind, they do deftly bring together findings from many disparate areas of
      science in a book that science buffs will find hard to put down."


      "The strange attraction we have to apocalyptic stories, whether told by
      seers or scientists, stokes this compellingly grim scenario of terra firma's
      fate. After a new ice age destroys human civilization in the geological near
      term, a reassembly of the continents, combined with a brightening sun,
      inexorably extinguishes plant and animal life in about 250 million years. A
      few billion years on, the sterilized planet vaporizes as it spirals into a
      red giant. How science can confidently prophesy doomsday emerges in the
      authors' explanation of what makes Earth a habitable cosmic oasis in the
      first place. Brownlee, a geologist, and Ward, an astronomer, zero in on the
      processes, biological and geological, that cycle the elements carbon and
      oxygen through the atmosphere. Elaborating on the evidence that carbon
      dioxide peaked about 200 million years ago and will decline toward zero,
      they imagine how life will look as it evolves to escape the hostilities of a
      radiation-blasted desert world. Creative but scientifically grounded, the
      authors' prognostication of the ultimate environmental disaster is morbidly


      "This is the first real biography of the Earth -- not only a brilliant
      portrait of the emergence and evolution of life on this planet but a vivid
      and frightening look at Earth's remote future. Peter Ward and Donald
      Brownlee combine storytelling power with extreme scientific care, and their
      narrative is as transfixing as any H.G. Well's fantasies, but more
      enthralling, for Ward and Brownlee have real power to prognosticate. This
      is a book that makes one shiver, but also inspires one to wonder how
      humanity (if we survive in the short term) will fare in the more distant
      future." -- Oliver Sacks

      "I have written three biographies and read many others, but who would have
      thought of a biography of planet Earth and its lifeforms? Ward and Brownlee
      have introduced the emerging science of astrobiology as a field that is
      important, exciting, and fun. The different scenarios for the end of life
      on Earth are provocative; while we cannot prevent some possibilities, the
      good news is that we can prevent others." -- David H. Levy, discoverer of
      Twenty-One Comets, Including Shoemaker-Levy 9

      "This is beautifully written, provocative book, exploring the long-term
      future of planet Earth in ways that have never been probed before." --
      David Morrison, NASA Ames Research Center


      Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee are the coauthors of the acclaimed and
      bestselling Rare Earth. Don Brownlee is a professor of astronomy at the
      University of Washington and has been involved in many space experiments;
      currently he is leading NASA's Stardust mission to collect samples of a
      comet and return them to Earth. Peter Ward is a professor of geological
      science and zoology at the University of Washington and the author of nine
      other books, including Future Evolution ,In Search of Nautilus ,The Call of
      Distant Mammoths , and The End of Evolution , which was a finalist for the
      Los Angeles Times Book Prize.


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