Chapter 2 — An Age of Uncertainty (for Dave)
“Persons living in this modern world who do not know the basic facts that determine their very existence, functioning, and surroundings are living in a dream world. Such persons are, in a very real sense, not sane.”
— GERALD HOLTON, Professor of Physics/History of Science, Harvard University
“Rocks crumble, make new forms, oceans move the continents, mountains rise up and down like ghosts yet all is natural, all is change.”
— ANNE SEXTON, The Wall
Let’s start our journey toward renewable contentment and sustainable happiness right here where we find ourselves, in Earth. Most modern people take Earth for granted, giving it little thought and barely acknowledging its existence. However, circumstances have changed and are changing rapidly, as we will see in this chapter. It’s now time to raise our awareness of the reality of our terrestrial home and our place in it. We don’t live on Earth as we’ve been taught to think, we live in it. Earth is a living system that includes layers of protective atmosphere that shelter life within Earth by absorbing radiation, and moderating temperature extremes between day and night. We exist deeply embedded within the sphere, an innately inseparable, participating element of this finely woven multi-layered living system — not on top of it, above it, or apart from it. This complex living system is much more than a pile of resources for us to consume; it is as much a part of us as our blood, skin, organs, bones, and breath. We’re as much an embedded, integral part of Earth as its rivers, soil, flora and fauna, rock, and air.
In the Western world, until the nineteenth century, our notions of the earth and its history were dominated by a Christian biblical understanding. Using biblical reference points, faith-based scholars estimated that the earth had been created between 4000 and 5500 BCE. Viewed through a modern scientific lens, this appears ridiculous, but the overwhelming power of the religious structures cannot be underestimated. Nor should we underestimate the gigantic effort of will required to release the fetters of those structures and see reality. That effort of will is similar to the one required of us as we receive and fully grasp the meaning and extended ramifications of the information contained in Part I of this book.
Not so long ago, the most learned members of society believed that Earth exists in an orderly, stable solar system that operates in an orderly, stable universe, and that Earth changes very gradually and uniformly over very long periods of time. This belief, which had permeated all of modern thought, is referred to in the natural sciences as Gradualism (and Uniformitarianism). However, belief in Gradualism has been rapidly eroding in recent decades, particularly since Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet fragments smashed spectacularly into Jupiter in 1994 at 300,000 miles (500,000 km) per hour, stunning the scientific community and requiring scientists to rethink long-held beliefs that an event like this one only happens at intervals of millions of years and that the odds were against it happening in our time. The solar system and Earth suddenly began to look very different. The co-discoverer of Shoemaker-Levy 9, astrophysicist David Levy, summed up this new awareness when he said, “It is not a question of if we will be hit … it is when.” If this can happen to Jupiter in our time, then it can happen to Earth at any time…and has, as we’ll see in this chapter.
Although scholars such as James Hutton and John Playfair first floated the notion of an Earth that gradually changed over many thousands of years, it was Charles Lyell who synthesized the ideas and created what was essentially a grand theory of Gradualism. His Principles of Geology, first published in 1830, remains a classic, both for the scientific method he used in upending current thought and for his transparent prose. In Principles, Lyell cited numerous studies of rock strata — exposed by geological upheaval in his native Scotland — to show that Earth’s crust is composed of layers gradually laid down over millennia. Some of these layers had been, over time, folded over upon each other or acted upon by seismic or volcanic forces, but the basic accretion and movement, Lyell contended, was extremely slow. Lyell’s ideas formed the basis of the new field of geology, and he remains the father of the science, his position similar to that of Darwin in the biological sphere (Darwin was heavily influenced by Lyell’s ideas). Lyell’s timeframe of around three million years for the age of the Earth, while much more realistic than 5,500 years, was still wildly off the reality (the best estimates, using radioactive decay in certain atoms in zircon crystals, now place the age of Earth at 4.3 billion years).
From Certainty to Uncertainty
The movement away from the exclusively Gradualist perception of the natural world — to one that includes periods of rapid change — was brought about by geology’s relatively new understanding of plate tectonics in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The idea that Earth’s landmasses were in constant motion was first developed by Alfred Wegener, a German scientist, in the first decade of the twentieth century. Looking at a globe, he had noticed, as many schoolchildren do, how the continents fit together like puzzle pieces. Africa dovetails neatly into South America, Madagascar can be slotted into Mozambique, New Guinea matches precisely with a notch in northern Australia, and so on. Wegener theorized that the landmasses had once been connected as part of a larger mega-continent. Interestingly, and presciently, he also theorized that astrophysical influences may be the reason for the drift. We’ll look more at that concept in the following chapters.
Wegener’s ideas, like most dramatic new visions of reality, were met with profound skepticism. In fact, it wasn’t until 1950, twenty years after Wegener’s death, that geologists found evidence that India had once been in the Southern Hemisphere, and his ideas were resurrected. The new geologists, studying the sea floor, discovered that tremendous upheavals were taking place in the mid-Atlantic. In fact, Earth is continually shedding its skin and spawning a new layer, while the land flows away to either side. In recent decades, geologists have used the new field of paleomagnetism to track the movements of landmasses. Paleomagnetism examines iron particles within rocks to pinpoint their orientation when the rocks were formed. When rock is still at a molten stage, but cooling, the iron particles naturally align themselves with Earth’s magnetic poles. By analyzing this phenomenon, geologists are able not only to track the motion of landmasses, but also to show that the magnetic poles, at times in the distant past, have entirely reversed and then switched back (we’ll look more at this phenomenon and what it reveals to us a little further on). Plate tectonics, which derive from Wegener’s theory, explain how the Earth’s crust is composed of segments (plates) in constant motion relative to each other. The crust of the Earth floats above its liquid, molten core. As a result, landmasses drift on the surface of the Earth over time, periodically ripping continents apart and forming new ones.
Before the acceptance of plate tectonics, it was generally believed that Earth was stable and solid, aside from relatively minor localized quakes and the occasional local volcano or flood. Mountains were believed to have reached their heights over vast periods of time. The oceans were believed to have stayed closely within their shores and been relatively stable in depth. It was believed that geological layers formed extremely slowly and uniformly all over the globe, and that the climate was relatively stable, with extremes only very gradually taking place over millions or many hundreds of thousands of years. In this view, planets and stars stayed in their appointed place and rotations, and Earth was protected from meteor impacts by an imagined favored positioning in the solar system. The belief in Gradualism was so entrenched that it was taboo and even career-ending for a scientist to speak of any alternative theory until a few decades ago.
It wasn’t until the Alvarez hypothesis gained acceptance in the 1980s, that Gradualism began to be seriously questioned. This hypothesis presented solid evidence that an asteroid impact caused a massive species die-off in the distant past, stimulating renewed scientific interest in the maligned and ignored theory of Catastrophism, the idea that changes in the Earth’s crust and surface features during geological history have resulted chiefly from sudden, frequently global, cataclysmic events. This has sparked a revolution in scientific research in the last two decades, aided by recent technological leaps, that has radically changed the way we understand Earth’s systems, history, and future.
Prior to the general acceptance of the theory of Catastrophism, leading scientists in many fields of research had confidently announced that everything important about Earth and the universe had already been discovered. It was widely thought in the sciences that only minor details needed to be worked out so that humanity would be able to micromanage the Earth’s ecosystem and weather patterns and even dominate time and space. It was believed that the complete subjugation of nature (tacitly understood as female) was within our grasp, and that this was our noblest goal and duty. It was a brief era of extraordinarily delusional confidence — one that I contest with many examples in subsequent chapters — that humans (tacitly understood as male) were the appointed masters of nature.
Now, we’re not so sure of ourselves. In recent decades, it’s become common for research scientists to announce that some recent discovery is causing their entire field of inquiry to reconsider their most foundational beliefs. For example, Dr. Danny Natawidjaja, senior geologist with the Research Centre for Geotechnology at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, has said, regarding a significant archaeological site in West Java, Indonesia, where drill cores have dated megalithic terraces at 20,000 BCE to 22,000 BCE: “Everything we’ve been taught about the origins of civilization may be wrong” (Hancock, 2014). Archaeologist Ian Hodder, director of Stanford University’s archeology program, commenting on the Gobekli Tepi archaeological site in Turkey that dates to the 10th millennium BCE, that contains more than 200 intricately carved pillars, with heights up to 20 feet and weighing up to 20 tons, and that contains information regarding a meteor bombardment that took place 13,000 years ago (more about this below) mentions “huge great stones and fantastic, highly refined art” and reports that “Many people think that it changes everything…It overturns the whole apple cart. All our theories were wrong.” (Symmes 2010). And the geologist Anita Harris, whose discovery of the role of color in conodonts was foundational to the petroleum industry, is skeptical about traditional views of the stability and gradual movement of the Earth’s crust. She had a profound awakening while camping in Montana. A sizeable earthquake struck, and Harris ran outside her tent, where she saw “soil moving like ocean waves, and for all her professed terror she was collected enough to notice that the waves were not propagating well and were cracking at their crests” (McPhee 1998, 170). Later, she said, “The slow steady march of geologic time is punctuated with catastrophes. And what we see in the geologic record are the catastrophes … The evolution of the world does not happen a grain at a time. It happens in the hundred-year storm, the hundred-year flood” (McPhee, 1998, 171–72).
Today, it’s generally accepted that there are ongoing gradual changes of varying speeds, but also that there are periodic cataclysmic events that disrupt terrestrial systems, collapse civilizations, and reorder life. What we’ve discovered about the universe, Earth, civilization, and life in the past few decades has left us surprised that what we thought we knew with certainty was so inaccurate and so widely, even dangerously, incomplete. In this chapter, we’ll take a look at some of these events and discoveries, including climate change, earthquakes, volcanic activity, and exoterrestrial influences, to argue that Earth isn’t as peaceful and predictable as we think it is. It’s a reminder of what’s happened in the past and what will happen in the future as we move through natural cycles. And this typology of environmental disruption and change has consequences for how we should think about living our daily lives and organizing society, which we’ll consider in Part II of this book which describes a way of making contentment and happiness real in a time of uncertainty and instability.
“All of us are observing, as it were, a blue coloured sun; we marvel at bodies which cast no mid-day shadow, and at that strength of intensest heat reaching extreme and dull tepidity … So we have had a winter without storms, spring without mildness, summer without heat … The seasons have changed by failing to change; and what used to be achieved by mingled rains cannot be gained from dryness only.”
— FLAVIUS MAGNUS AURELIUS CASSIODORUS SENATOR,Roman statesman, 490–585 BCE
In modern society, climate has become an area of great interest and much heated debate. During the last few decades, scientists have confirmed that extremes of climate change are cyclical and have taken place countless times in the relatively recent past with varying degrees of intensity. These periodic shifts in climate have occurred not just in very long patterns of change over hundreds of thousands or millions of years, as was previously believed, but also in relatively recent short cycles of dangerous extremes, which range in increments from millennia to centuries, decades, or even just a year or two. Potentially threatening to human survival, these periods of extreme climate can emerge slowly, or they can be abrupt.
For example, several recent climate studies, confirmed by extensive ice-core data, show that approximately 11,500 years ago (a blink of an eye in Earth time), over a 1,500-year span, there was a dramatic global heating of approximately 21 degrees Fahrenheit / 11.55°C (Alley 2004). The ice-core data suggest that half of this significant and rapid increase — about 11 degrees Fahrenheit (6.05°C) — occurred in less than fifteen years, around 9600 BCE. Both figures are significantly higher than the 3 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit (1.65 to 3.85°C) increase discussed in current public climate-change debates (largely driven by financial and political interests) as the threatening upper projection for temperature increase that would have devastating effects on our global society. This earlier dramatic increase and other relatively recent significant temperature fluctuations of varying duration are conspicuously absent from the extended and often raucous global warming debate that has heated up society in recent years, even though this information is made publicly available by the National Climate Data Center:
We don’t know how much, when, or how rapidly temperatures may rise or fall in the future, but we do now know that there are waves of continuous fluctuation, and that the current thousand years or so of optimal climate stability we’ve experienced is the exception, not the norm. And as we shall see, there have been catastrophic fluctuations even within this period of relative stability. The geological and ice-core records clearly reveal that temperatures have repeatedly and drastically increased or decreased in the relatively recent past like clockwork, wave after wave. Research by marine geologist Cesare Emiliani, published in Science, shows that the Earth has undergone eight periods of extreme cold and seven periods of extreme heat in the last 400,000 years, and that the climatologically comfortable intervals between them were all relatively brief (Emiliani 1975). In the period between 100,000 and 20,000 years ago, about two dozen such fluctuations occurred. In the period from 10,700 BCE to the present, there have been at least six significant heating or cooling events.
(Note: knowledge of these recent extreme temperature fluctuations doesn’t minimize the well-documented fact that modern humans are contributing dangerously to the current warming of Earth’s atmosphere. There is now no denying our substantial and destructive contribution to the heating of the planet. We’re significantly heating Earth from within the outer borders of the atmosphere, while at the same time it is being heated from outside of Earth’s atmosphere by processes that we’ll look at below. In doing so, we’re pouring gas to flame and increasing risk.)
Placing the current heating of the planet into a larger context, Nobel laureate Willard R. Libby, at a conference on isotope climatology and paleoclimatology, warned that “ice ages have been the normal condition during the last several million years, with temperate climates enduring only 5 percent of the time” (Tompkins and Bird 1998, 179). Doug Macdougall, Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, noted that “Earth is still in an ice age. We’re in a heating period, one of the many interglacial intervals that have occurred throughout the Pleistocene Ice Age, but even so, there are significant amounts of permanent ice in the polar regions. It’s easy to forget that this may be just a short respite before another glacial interval begins” (Macdougall 2006, 232).
Recently, terrestrial temperatures have shown a steady and dramatic rise — the previous decade has been the warmest on record during the last 200 years — with increasingly devastating consequences for humans. James Lovelock, the British scientist and maverick thinker, together with Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, first noted the phenomenon known as “global warming.” Lovelock, whose work was amplified and refined by Lynn Margulis at the University of Massachusetts, realized that Earth’s atmosphere is a living, breathing entity, and that small changes in one place could have enormous global implications. Based on this realization, he developed his Gaia theory (the study of which is termed “geophysiology”), which envisions Earth as a single system: all biological, geological, and atmospheric processes are interrelated and interactive, and a shift in one location creates a far-reaching ripple effect in other locations. Though Lovelock’s and Margulis’s conclusions were widely ridiculed by the scientific community when they were first made public, their work has since become generally accepted. Computer simulations run by Lovelock and others have shown that, while global warming has had relatively minimal effects in recent years, these effects are poised to increase dramatically. The primary reason is that the melting of the polar ice caps and the tundra of Siberia and northern Canada has created a much darker planetary surface. Whereas white snow and ice reflect light, dark surface water and land absorb heat, magnifying the warming effect. On 17 December, 2011, the lead article in the New York Times noted that the majority of mainstream scientists now believed that the melting of the tundra’s permafrost in the far north might be catastrophic, because it will release vast amounts of methane into the atmosphere: “As people burn immense amounts of carbon in the form of fossil fuels, the planet’s temperature is rising, and the Arctic is warming twice as fast. That, scientists say, puts the remaining permafrost deposits at risk” (Gillis 2011). These scientists forecast that the release of overwhelming amounts of methane will probably begin in the 2020s. In 2007, a lightning strike in Alaska set 400 miles of tundra on fire, an event that had not occurred in the region for at least 5,000 years, providing evidence of the pronounced desiccation of the permafrost. According to the New York Times article, “scientists have calculated that the fire and its aftermath sent a huge pulse of carbon into the air — as much as would be emitted in two years by a city the size of Miami. Scientists say the fire thawed the upper layer of permafrost and set off what they fear will be permanent shifts in the landscape” (Gillis 2011).
Geological and environmental shifts aren’t the only factors involved in climate change. There’s strong evidence that cosmological factors are also involved. One supporting piece of evidence involves the “Maunder minimum,” a period of low sunspot activity that lasted from 1645 to 1715. This period coincided with the coldest portion of the famous “Little Ice Age,” which was recorded in the paintings and literature of northern Europe. This coldest period is also recorded in the internal age-rings of seventeenth century trees around the world, exhibiting very slow growth. There is also evidence of a longer period of minimal solar activity, known as the Spörer minimum, which lasted from about 1460 to 1550. Both the Maunder and Spörer minimums took place during the coldest parts of the Little Ice Age.
Scientists have also discovered that solar activity has an effect on the intensity of thunderstorms and thus climate: a higher rate of solar activity causes lower thunderstorm activity on Earth. Furthermore, scientists who researched the relationship between solar variability (the sun’s storm activity) and Earth’s climate were surprised to discover a physical link between solar variability and variations of water levels in major rivers in Earth. This is due to the sun’s effect on ocean patterns and atmosphere, which in turn affect rainfall levels. In other words, the more closely science looks at the relationship between Earth’s climate and the sun, the more connections are revealed. It’s worth noting here the findings of S. K. Solanki, published in Nature: “The level of solar activity during the past 70 years is exceptional … during the past 11,400 years the sun spent only of the order of 10% of the time at a similarly high level of magnetic activity … almost all of the earlier high-activity periods were shorter than the present episode” (Solanki 2004).
In sum, we’ve known for quite a while that our planet cycles between macro extremes of very hot to very cold that shift very slowly over tens of thousands to millions of years. But in recent decades, it’s become clear that there are many micro patterns within this macro fluctuation. These smaller cycles occur in shorter rapid transitional periods within longer periods, can be extreme, and can have far-reaching and sudden effects. A report commissioned by the U.S. Defense Department titled “Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security” warns that abrupt extreme climate change has happened in the past in time frames as short as a decade, and that such a shift may happen again within decades or sooner. The report ends by asserting that “disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life” in the relatively near future, if their climate projections become reality (Shwartz and Randall 2003). This stark warning of “disruption and conflict” is consistent with research conducted by a team of climatologists and archaeologists and published in Science, which determined chronological parallels between pronounced patterns of social upheaval and significant variations of climate over the previous 2,500 years (Buntgen, et al 2011). And Lonnie Thompson, one of the world’s foremost experts on glaciers and ancient climates, brought it closer to home when he said, “Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization” (Thompson 2010).
As a corollary to the evidence of climate change, research during recent decades has shown that there have been cyclical periods of large-scale drought, both regional and global, ranging from several decades to a thousand years. Within the last 7,000 years, there have been seven large-scale droughts. And there’s even evidence of a major global drought 70,000 years ago so catastrophic that it left its mark in the human genetic record, which shows a bottleneck indicating a severe population die-off of humans at that time, with perhaps as few as several thousand survivors. Noted paleontologist Meave Leakey reflects on this, asking, “Who would have thought that as recently as 70,000 years ago, extremes of climate had reduced our population to such small numbers that we were on the very edge of extinction?” (The Telegraph, April 2008). The period between 6300 and 4200 BCE was also marked by repeated, extreme drought that lasted for centuries. Recently, researchers have concluded that drought was the primary cause of the Late Bronze Age crisis and collapse of the Greek Mycenaean kingdoms, the Hittite Empire in Anatolia and Syria, and the New Kingdom of Egypt in Syria and Canaan (Finkelstein et al. 2013). Another epic drought in the Americas lasted from approximately 1100 to 1200 CE. And a mega-drought in the sixteenth century CE wreaked havoc for decades in the Americas.
Currently, widespread severe drought is occurring over large sections of the globe, and the global drought projections for the next two decades make for grim reading. According to a comprehensive study conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, extensive regions of the world could experience catastrophic drought conditions by the 2030s.
The uncertainty of our time also extends to Earth’s electromagnetic field (EMF). It’s well documented that the strength of Earth’s EMF fluctuates in a cyclical pattern from high to low over long periods. At intervals, it reverses and the geomagnetic poles switch places. Currently, the electromagnetic field is becoming weaker, with an approximate 15% decline over the last 150 years, a decline that has been dramatically accelerating over the past 50 years, and significantly so over the past 5 years. Decline in the strength of the Earth’s electromagnetic field has been associated with erratic climate and also species die-off on a large scale. A recent article in The Independent noted that “Five great extinction events have reshaped Earth in cataclysmic ways in the past 439 million years, each one wiping out between 50 and 95 per cent of the life of the day, including the dominant life forms”(Whitty 2007). One such event was the Permian extinction, in which 97% of ocean life and 70% of land vertebrates became extinct in what is believed to be the largest die-off of life on the planet. At present, as Earth’s electromagnetic field weakens and disorders, we are in the midst of the Holocene extinction event, also known as the Sixth Extinction, which is characterized by an estimated loss of as many as two thirds of all species by the end of this century. This is likely a conservative estimate given that 58% of vertebrae species, 81% of freshwater fish, 76% of the global insect population, and 90% of ocean biomass have already gone extinct since 1970. This phenomenon is also showing a pattern of acceleration. A poll conducted by the American Museum of Natural History found that seven in ten biologists believe that this extinction event poses an enormous threat to human existence (Harris 1998). This event is clearly associated with the erratic drifting of the magnetic poles (700 miles within the last 200 years) and the weakening of the earth’s electromagnetic field, but the extent of the association and its full long-term effect is a concerning unknown.
The Earth’s magnetic north and south poles have migrated around the surface of the Earth repeatedly in the past. It’s recently been determined that the magnetic north pole was once located off the coast of Los Angeles. There’s even evidence that the poles have abruptly switched places, with “north” becoming “south”, and then switching back. Now they are currently migrating once again in an erratic pattern. Recently, to adjust for this movement, the runways at Tampa Airport in Florida and Stansted Airport near London had to be renumbered because of the shifting of the Earth’s magnetic poles.
The relationship of this migration to Earth’s electromagnetic field, which is tied to the sun’s electromagnetic field, isn’t fully understood. It’s also unknown whether the movements of the magnetic poles affect the positioning of Earth’s geographical poles. Geologist S. K. Runcorn of the University of Cambridge stated in a Scientific American article: “There seems no doubt that Earth’s magnetic field is tied up in some way to the rotation of the planet. And this leads to a remarkable finding about Earth’s rotation itself.” The unavoidable conclusion, Runcorn states, is that “Earth’s axis of rotation has changed also. In other words, the planet has rolled about, changing the location of the geographical poles” (Runcorn 1955, 61). This idea that the planet has “rolled about” would not be unfamiliar to our ancient ancestors, as we’ll see in later chapters.
Studies have shown that the wandering and reversal of the electromagnetic poles is related to both solar fluctuations, increases in volcanic and seismic activity, and glacial maximums. According to a recent article in the science journal Nature, there was a geomagnetic reversal around 13,000 years ago. At the same time, temperatures soared, ice sheets melted, great civilizations fell to ruin, and there were massive species die-offs, colossal volcanic and seismic events, social crises, and cultural collapse. There was a geomagnetic reversal 21k years ago at the same time that a glacier maximum occurred. There was a geomagnetic reversal 40k — 42k years ago, the LaChamp event, at the same time that a glacier maximum occurred and the Neanderthal species was wiped out, and the terrestrial electromagnetic field strength degraded to between 5–0%. There was a geomagnetic reversal between 71–74k years ago, at the same time that there was a global drought that nearly extincted the human species and also a supervolcanic eruption. This approx. 13–15k year recurrence (+/- 1–2k year s) of geomagnetic reversal and climate catastrophe / mass extinction extends far back into the mists of time. J.M Harwood and S.C.R. Malin, in a Nature Magazine article, nature.com, stated that another geomagnetic reversal is due around 2030 AD which lands directly within another suspected cycle of the rise to paradise and fall of civilization in 12,500 year cycles. The 12,000 year solar magnetic reversal is another theory from Paul LaVoilete which indicated the evidence that sun goes through a geomagnetic makeover, resulting in a geomagnetic flip every 11,500–12,000 years. We are overdue for another reversal and this needs to be factored into current climate change theories and beliefs.
Solar, Stellar, and Galactic Radiation
The inhabitants of Earth are protected by a very thin atmospheric membrane from the radiation that emanates in waves and blasts from the galaxy’s center, from supernova explosions, and from dangerous types of light and radiation emanating from other sources in space, including the sun — particularly the coronal mass ejections (CME) that erupt out of sunspots, primarily during its eleven-year active cycle. Adding to the uncertainty of our time, there are currently two large rips in this protective magnetosphere that shields the planet and its life forms. Recently, a massive solar storm caused high levels of intense heat-inducing radiation to flood into the largest of these rips in the magnetosphere — the outer skin of the planet — where it became trapped in the atmosphere. This created spectacular displays of aurora borealis that could be viewed as far south as Tennessee and Virginia in the United States. Solar events that disrupt Earth’s electromagnetic field aren’t rare, and even with the protection of the magnetosphere, CMEs and solar storms are known to disrupt electrical systems. A recent NASA-funded study by the National Academy of Sciences entitled Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts (National Academies Press 2009) warned of the potential danger, concluding that a severe influx of solar radiation as a result of a CME could lead to a cascading failure of electrical transformers that would disable a third or more of the U.S. electrical grid for a year or longer. This study was based on a super storm the size of one that occurred in 1921. However, a solar storm that took place from August 28 to September 2 in 1859, known as the 1859 Solar Super Storm, or the Carrington Event, was fifty times stronger than the 1921 solar storm. It produced the largest solar flare witnessed by Western scientists. This flare caused a massive coronal ejection that was aimed directly at Earth. While average ejections take around thirty-six hours to reach Earth, this event took only seventeen hours to get here. Its impact on Earth’s electromagnetic field resulted in the largest geomagnetic storm ever recorded by Western science. At night the aurora was seen around the world, even as far south as the Caribbean, and was so bright that people could read a newspaper outside at midnight by its light. Telegraph systems failed, in many cases giving electric shocks to the operators. Telegraph transformers emitted shocks and sparks and caused fires.
Imagine the potential effects of a CME the size of the Carrington Event hitting Earth today, considering that one the size of the 1921 event, fifty times smaller than the Carrington Event, could shut down electrical systems that supply power to a third of the United States for an indefinitely long period of time. This is hard to imagine. Even harder to imagine is that these events can happen anytime, not just in the past or in the far away future. It can happen tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Next year. It very nearly happened on July 23rd, 2012. On that day the sun ejected one of the largest CMEs ever detected that travelled at a speed of 3,000 km per second, 4 times faster than average solar eruptions. Fortunately for us, it missed Earth. If it had happened just a week earlier, Earth would have been struck by a billion-ton cloud of magnetized plasma. Satellites, power and water supplies, computers and internet, smart phones, television and radio, hospital equipment, nuclear reactors…all would have been disabled. According to Daniel Baker, of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, “If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces.” He went on to say “”In my view the July 2012 storm was in all respects at least as strong as the 1859 Carrington event…the only difference is, it missed.” (The Guardian, July 2014). That’s a chilling thought.
Humans and other living beings aren’t immune to these effects. It’s known that metabolic activity among humans and animals increases measurably during solar storm and CME events, and that there are significant increases in the number of human cardiac events during periods of increased solar storm activity, indicating that humans can be directly affected by these storms. Research jointly conducted by the Institute of Space Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy has established that fluctuations within the terrestrial EMF, resulting from solar storms and CME events, can negatively disrupt the human heartbeat. These terrestrial EMF fluctuations occur in about half of all solar-triggered geomagnetic storms. Medical statistics for the city of Moscow show that 70% of these fluctuations are accompanied by an abnormally high incidence of heart attacks. And a team of researchers led by Valery Feigin, MD at the Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand, discovered strong evidence connecting geomagnetic activity to increased risk for stroke. Feigin says: “We have known for ages that geomagnetic storms can shut down electrical stations across many regions and affect satellite navigation equipment, so it is logical that they can also affect human health.” He warns that “People need to know when these storms are coming” and suggests that “In time we might have a geomagnetic forecast along with the weather forecast.” He matter-of-factly concludes: “As it is known that 2014 is a year of high geomagnetic activity, we can expect a higher stroke rate this year.” (Medscape Medical News, 2014). For decades, scientific research has shown that geomagnetic storms strongly correlate with catastrophic weather events, whale / crustacean mass beachings, and with increased rates of suicide and hospitalization for cardiac events, stroke, high blood pressure, clinical depression and other mood disorders, premature birth, sudden infant death, sudden elder death, social disorder, violence, psychotic episodes and other psychiatric admissions.
Solar triggered geomagnetic fluctuations have correlated with heightened anxiety, insomnia, elevated blood pressure, premature birth, sudden death syndrome, mood alteration, and increases in psychiatric admissions (Persinger 1987, p 92). A study on the relationship between these fluctuations and depression found that hospital admissions of persons with a previous diagnosis of depression rose 36.2% during periods of solar disruption as compared with normal periods (Kay 1994). Raps, Stoupel, and Shimshoni (1992) established a strong correlation between numbers of first psychiatric admissions and solar disruption. Kuleshova et al. (2001) documented that the average number of hospitalized patients with mental and cardiovascular diseases increases measurably during these fluctuations, and that the frequency of myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, and disruptions of cardial rhythm and brain blood circulation doubles. Zakharov and Tyrnov (2001) documented an adverse effect of these fluctuations not just on sick people but also on the healthy: “It is commonly agreed that solar activity has adverse effects first of all on enfeebled and ill organisms. In our study we have traced that under conditions of nervous and emotional stresses (at work, in the street, and in cars) the effect may be larger for healthy people”. Tarquini, Perfetto, and Tarquini (1998) analyzed the relationship between these fluctuations and seasonal depression, and determined that terrestrial EMF fluctuations induced by solar activity, by disrupting the rhythms of the pineal gland, causes imbalances and disruptions of melatonin production, which have been closely linked to behavioral changes and mood disorders. And there is mounting evidence that these fluctuations are related to increases in violent crime and social upheavals during more intense occurrences. Also, exposure to higher levels of solar radiation as a result of an increasing occurrence of CMEs might be related to a surge in herd animal cataracts and human and animal cancers.
Scientists have expressed concern that a supersized CME aimed at Earth could tear the rips in the magnetosphere farther open, and that the blast of gas, magnetic energy, and radiation could become trapped inside the magnetosphere, causing, at a minimum, widespread disruption of electrical systems, both technological and biological. At worst, such a blast could cause social collapse, conflagration, and biological mutations. Their concern isn’t limited to just the danger of intense solar activity. In 1998, Earth was blasted by shockingly high levels of radiation. As NASA reported, a “blast wave swept past Earth. Satellites registered a surge of x-rays and gamma-rays…”. It seemed like another X-class solar flare. Except for one thing: this flare didn’t come from the sun. It came from outer space. ‘The source of the blast was SGR 1900 + 14, a neutron star about 45,000 light years away,’ says NASA astronomer Pete Woods. ‘It was the strongest burst of cosmic x-rays and gamma rays we’ve ever recorded’” (“Solar Flares on Steroids” 2003).
Exoterrestrial activity is updated daily at www.spaceweather.com. You may notice a relationship between this dynamic activity and mood, physical health, and current events. We’ll look closer at the biomechanics of this relationship in the introduction to Part II.
Fluctuating Sea Levels
Uncertainty in Earth’s history is also reflected in fluctuating sea levels. Geological and oceanographic research has shown that ocean levels have risen and fallen dramatically and rapidly in the relatively recent past, peaking at approximately 300 feet higher and at least 450 feet lower than current levels. There are ancient sunken ruins off the shores of many countries around the world, and many of the offshore islands and larger land areas surrounded by water were once connected with dry land. Archaeologists are presently at work in the bay of Alexandria in Egypt, where they have uncovered the site of Cleopatra’s palace, ripped apart by an earthquake and now completely underwater. Mary Settegast, a noted archaeologist, has documented that much of ancient Greece lies underwater. And there’s at least one sunken city off the coast of India that extends nine kilometers from the present shoreline, and that might be found to date to 10,000–15,000 BCE once all data is analyzed.
Looking forward, sea levels are now rising precipitously, to the extent that some island nations may not exist in the next century. The Maldives, in particular, are at risk, and the government has been forced to prepare emergency evacuation plans. South Florida is also expected to be submerged by the end of this century if sea levels rise to meet the predictions associated with climate change computer models. Because of the importance of sea trade routes to our ancestors, many of the modern world’s most important and populous cities lie near the oceans, among them New York, Los Angeles, Bombay, Tokyo, Sydney, Shanghai, and Rio de Janeiro. Others, such as London and Cairo, are situated on lowlands connected to the sea by a wide river (the Thames, the Nile), and are at secondary risk. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science has warned that 1,700 metropolitan areas could end up below sea level by the end of this century (Strauss 2013). A rise of this amount isn’t unprecedented. Cesare Emiliani, the founder of paleoceanography, measured deep-sea cores that showed a dramatic rise in the global sea level around 11,600 years ago.
While these sea-level fluctuations aren’t in dispute, the reasons for the dramatic changes are a topic of intense debate. There’s interesting evidence from glaciologists, who have long been intrigued by the erratic flow of glaciers. While most glaciers creep along at the rate of several inches a day, in some documented cases they shoot forward at the rate of hundreds of feet a day. Glaciologists speculate that melting ice creates sudden lubrication beneath the glacial mass, abruptly boosting the speed. The calving of icebergs off glaciers and land-bound ice masses is a major contributor to the rising sea levels. In August 2010, the largest iceberg to calve from an ice mass in fifty years (four times the size of Manhattan), broke off the Greenland ice shelf and entered the Atlantic Ocean. In November 2011, it was reported that an iceberg the size of the city of Toronto was calving off the Antarctic ice mass. The number of these colossal icebergs has increased in recent years, and they are contributing to the current rising sea levels. Such developments far away may not seem particularly relevant to most people, but in this connected natural environment, they have serious consequences for everyone on the planet, as we’ll see in the section below about volcanic activity and it’s relationship to glacier melting.
Shifting Tectonic Plates and Landmasses
Earlier, we looked at the changing scientific thought about the tectonic plates that make up the continents. This change in thought about continental plates reflects a greater change in thinking about the stability, or lack thereof, of planet Earth. From the changing geological record, we now know that large landmasses regularly sink into the Earth to become inland seas and thrust upward to become high plateaus. Some people may be surprised to know that major parts of the Earth, now fully inhabited, were once covered in water. In the United States, present-day Cincinnati, Ohio, parts of Pennsylvania, inland southern California, and large portions of central California are all former seabeds. In Europe, France has been an inland sea at least five times, and the island of Britain has repeatedly been submerged below the surface of the sea. In Northern Africa, the central Sahara once contained an enormous lake, called Lake Triton, estimated by Herodotus to be of a size equivalent, in modern terms, to about half the size of the continental United States. Seismic activity destroyed the dikes that bounded the lake, and the water abruptly drained away. The last remnant of Lake Triton is the rapidly shrinking Lake Chad. And around 1900 BCE, a large tectonic plate below the Indus Valley, extending from what today is northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India, shifted, with the result that the rivers and streams in the region abruptly sank far below the surface of the Earth or were diverted from the area, significantly contributing to the rapid decline of a vast and prosperous civilization.
Looking forward, current plate movements indicate that the Great Rift Valley, which runs down the eastern flank of Africa, will eventually split the continent in two. Similarly, western California will become a long island separated from the mainland. Africa and South America are currently moving apart at an average rate of 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) a year (nearly the rate that a human fingernail grows). However, that rate is slow compared with the rate that the Indian subcontinent achieved when it travelled northward to smash into Asia. It’s estimated that the landmass was moving at 9 inches (20 cm) a year. The impact created the Himalayas, which are still rising. Recent geological evidence shows that mountain thrusts might have occurred even much more rapidly during times of catastrophic upheaval within ancient recorded memory, and that they are still “rippling” upward and across continents slowly, but only as an aftereffect.
In their seminal 1997 book, When Earth Nearly Died, D. S. Allan and J. B. Delair suggested that Earth’s crust is even more fluid than conventional geologists maintained. Their book, the culmination of decades of research and accumulation of data around the world, demonstrates that, at times in the past, Earth’s crust slipped suddenly over the mantle, adjusting to unknown forces. Though we tend to think of our planet as solid, because the experience we have is with rock and earth, we are, in fact, standing on a cooled, extremely thin rind that floats over a seething molten ball. Like sailors on a frail raft, we’re literally adrift on an inferno. We’ve long known that the sea tides are the result of the pull of the moon. Our oceans experience two tides a day: one when the moon is above that point on the sea; one when it’s on the far side of Earth. What Allan and Delair suggest is that the tugging of not only the moon’s gravity, but also that of the sun and other planets, creates “tides” within Earth’s molten mantle. Certain alignments would naturally create a stronger tide (these are known as “spring tides” in the oceans; weak alignments are called “neap tides”). An abrupt swelling of the magmatic core beneath the crust could cause abrupt global shifts that could dramatically alter the shape of Earth’s rind and would create havoc in the living population on its surface. We’ll look at the power of these celestial alignments more closely in a later chapter.
Earth is always in a state of vibration and adjustment. According to the United States Geological Society, we can expect about 17 major earthquakes (7.0–7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) in any given year. The USGS estimates that several million earthquakes occur in the world each year. Many go undetected because they impact remote areas or have very small magnitudes. In recent years, three powerful earthquakes have actually moved the axis of Earth, according to geologists. If this sounds surprising, keep in mind that the February 2011 earthquake in Toheaku, Japan, which spawned a devastating tsunami and created the Kobe nuclear reactor disaster, moved the entire island forty-two feet (13 m) to the west, the largest shift ever recorded. In 2010, the massive 8.8 Chilean earthquake moved the entire city of Concepción ten feet to the west and sent a wave of tsunamis across the world. It shifted Earth’s axis and slightly shortened the length of a day. In 2004, the Andaman earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 300,000 people in Southeast Asia was caused by an abrupt 250-mile (400 km) slippage of the tectonic plates off the coast of Sumatra that displaced 7 cubic kilometers (1.6 cubic miles) of water. The force of the quake shifted the planet’s spin, also shortening the length of the day slightly. There’s now growing geological evidence that super-earthquakes exceeding the highest Richter scale measurement were quite common in the relatively recent past. Historical and geological evidence has revealed that an earthquake off the coast of northwestern United States in the early 1700s, measuring 9 or above on the Richter scale, triggered massive tsunamis that raced far inland, and it also caused devastating tsunamis on the coastline of Japan.
Earth’s seemingly calm exterior is also interrupted regularly by volcanoes. Around twenty of the 1,500 known active volcanoes are erupting at any given time — and there are also vast unknown numbers of volcanoes under the sea. Recently, it’s been discovered that there are even currently dormant volcanoes buried underneath the state of Michigan in the United States. Glacier-deposited diamonds have been discovered in Wisconsin and Indiana, indicating that volcanic kimberlite pipes exist north of the U.S. Midwest, perhaps in southern Canada. These discoveries prove that this region, once thought to be geologically stable, was recently seething with seismic activity. And in the Mediterranean region, there are layers of volcanic ash that are eighty to ninety feet deep from single explosions, with remains of advanced human civilization buried below the ash.
Beyond the localized damage from ash, the effects of volcanic eruptions on the Earth’s atmosphere shouldn’t be forgotten. Sometimes volcanoes erupt for extended periods of time — the Lakagigar eruption in Iceland in 1783 lasted eight months, and the sulfur gases caused a one-degree drop in temperature in the Northern Hemisphere. Most of the livestock and wildlife in Iceland were killed following the eruption because they ate plants contaminated by ejected fluorine. The acid rain caused crop failure that led to a famine that killed 9,000 people, a quarter of the population at that time. In 1816, much of the world experienced a year without summer, due to a six-month eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia that caused clouded skies, low temperatures, and killing frost in June and July. Lakes froze as far south as Pennsylvania in the United States in July and August of that year. Extensive crop failure caused famine and widespread death. The cloudiness from these volcanic events didn’t completely clear until the late 1840s, and it is captured in the paintings of that time. Curiously, we owe the novel Frankenstein to the “year without a summer.” Mary Shelley was encamped with her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron beside Lake Leman in Switzerland. It was too dark and cold to spend time outdoors, so they stayed inside, telling stories. Byron set them a task to write a Gothic tale. Thus was Frankenstein born.
The Tambora eruption had very far-reaching effects, but it was by no means the biggest eruption the Earth has seen. There is geological evidence of a super-volcanic lava field that covers 250,000 square miles at depths of up to a mile in what is now the northwestern United States. One of the world’s largest volcanoes, the Yellowstone caldera, spans approximately 1,500 square miles. It is currently being watched carefully by scientists, as it shows increasing signs of seismic activity. In recent years, this area has seen several series of hundreds of small earthquakes, and up to 1,500 quakes in one recent cluster, raising the eyebrows of scientists and government agencies. There are six other currently dormant super-volcanoes of similar size and lava footprint scattered around the globe. Geological dating shows that these super-volcanoes erupt in cycles, and that many are well past their due date for another round of eruptions.
Recently it has been discovered and repeatedly confirmed that there is a clear relationship between global deglaciation and increased volcanic activity. Historically and currently, as glaciers melt, volcanic eruptions happen more frequently (Huybers, 2009) (Watt, 2011). Why should we be concerned about this? All it takes is a few closely timed volcanic whoppers to bring civilization to a standstill, which, as we will see in a later chapter, has happened repeatedly in the past.
Tao-Rusyr Caldera in Russia is 4.5 miles (7.5 km) wide and was formed during a catastrophic eruption approximately 9,000–10,000 years ago.
Puyehue-Cordón Caulle in the Andes of Ranco Province is a volcanic complex that erupted on 4 June, 2011. An estimated 100 million tons of ash, sand, and pumice were ejected — the equivalent of 70 atomic bombs.
Mount Tambora is an active volcano in Indonesia. In 1815 CE it produced the largest known eruption since 180 CE, heard over 1,200 miles (2,000 km) away. The following year was known as the “year without a summer” because of its effect on North American and European weather. Crops failed catastrophically and livestock died in much of the Northern Hemisphere.
Krakatoa is a volcanic island in Indonesia. The 1883 eruption was heard nearly 3,000 miles (4,800 km) away and would have caused deafness in anyone closer than 10 miles (16 km). The eruption propelled ash to a height of 50 miles (80 km). Global climate was chaotic the following year and did not return to relatively normal levels until 1888.
Mount Vesuvius is located east of Naples, Italy. In 79 CE the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed by its eruption. The only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years, Mount Vesuvius is now regarded as the most dangerous volcano in the world due to its location near a population of 3 million people.
Toba Volcano is located in Indonesia. An eruption that took place around 73,000 years ago triggered an approximately 1,800-year global cooling period. Interestingly, this event was preceded by a global drought so severe that it reduced the human population to tens of thousands, as evidenced by a bottleneck in the human genetic record.
Meteorites, Comets, and Asteroids
“An actual collision could take place only if the two orbits intersected exactly, and if Earth and the comet arrived at this point simultaneously. The perfect timing and positioning required make the possibility of collision extremely slight.”
— LAROUSSE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ASTRONOMY, 1959
As recently as the 1700s, scientists throughout Europe dismissed the idea that stones could fall from the sky, even though ancient cultures around the globe knew well and recorded the phenomenon. As the quote above shows, even recently the scientific community thought that the likelihood of a meteorite impact was “extremely slight.” This thinking abruptly dissolved in 1994 when Shoemaker-Levy 9 spectacularly crashed into Jupiter. Since that event, satellite photography has revealed to us that Earth has been continually bombarded — even in relatively recent times. The lush greenness, wetness, and shifting nature of the topsoil from wind and flooding previously made it difficult for us to see the extensive cratering over large areas of the globe. However, in the last 30 years, over 250 large-impact craters have been discovered in Earth as a result of satellite photography, along with countless smaller ones. Three or four more are being discovered every year, ranging from huge to small.
Researchers from around the world have recently determined that around 13,000 years ago Earth was struck by an enormous fiery storm of comet fragments, igniting 15% of Earth’s surface and creating over 500,000 craters. This event is believed to have caused a 30 degree shift in the tilt of Earth’s axis. In the southeastern United States, between Maryland and Florida, there are thousands of craters, ranging in size from 200 to 8,000 feet, many of which have become lakes. A few of these craters measure three to seven miles in length and two miles in width. There are also thousands of craters in the Great Plains states in the United States that were created by this event. Similar crater fields, with clear curved trajectories, are found in Alaska, Siberia, and Bolivia, dating to the same time. Physical evidence of this widespread bombardment has also been confirmed in layers of melt-glass material, formed at temperatures of between 3,100 and 3,600 °F (1,700–2,200 °C), found in sedimentary rock in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina in the United States, and in Syria and Lebanon (Bunch 2012).
Studying the same general time period of this enormous widespread bombardment, scientists and geologists have noted “chevrons” occur in a pattern around the Indian Ocean. Four of these gigantic wedge-shaped structures are located on the southeastern coast of Madagascar, three miles inland. Analysis of their makeup shows that they contain numerous fossils of deep sea creatures, as well as the iron–nickel formations typical of meteorite fragments. Based on this evidence, geologists think that an enormous meteorite crashed into the Indian Ocean, where a crater 18 miles (29 km) across has recently been discovered 12,500 feet (3,810 m) below the surface. Such an impact would have created an unimaginably colossal tsunami — at least 600 feet (183 m) high, or thirteen times the size of the 2004 tsunami that inundated parts of Indonesia and much of the Pacific Rim. This tsunami appears to have shoved massive debris from the sea floor into the dramatic chevron structures that dominate the Malagasy landscape. There’s also evidence that an Atlantic Ocean impact event that took place 2,300 years ago was responsible for a large tsunami in the place we now know as the New York City metropolitan area (Cagen 2009).
More recent events continue in this pattern. In 1996, a meteorite hit Honduras, carving a crater 165 feet (50 m) across. In November 2011, an asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier zoomed between Earth and moon. It was so close that astronomers were able to video its motion. If an asteroid of such a size had hit Earth, it would have created a colossal crater, and would certainly have had a drastic effect on the global climate. In February 2013, asteroid 2012 DA14 (also known as 367943 Duende), about half the size of a football field, with an estimated mass of 40,000 metric tons, passed approximately 17,000 miles above Indonesia, closer than some satellites. On the same day, a meteor measuring 17 meters and weighing an estimated 10 metric tons, sneaking in like a thief in the night from behind the sun, entered the atmosphere and disintegrated over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The release of energy during this event is estimated at nearly 500 kilotons. And on March 10th 2013, an asteroid nearly the size of a city block passed by Earth. There was no danger of this 262-foot wide (80 m) asteroid colliding with Earth (it was approximately twice as far away as the moon) but there was a chilling note to the event: it was discovered only a week before the day of its closest flyby.
Astronomers estimate that there are 10,000 or more unknown Near Earth Objects (NEOs), ranging from one kilometer in diameter to approximately the size of two-and-a-half football fields, and that there are more than a million NEOs larger than 164 feet (50 m) in diameter (this is the threshold for penetration through Earth’s atmosphere). Currently there are just under 2000 NEOs classified as potentially threatening to Earth, and the list increases every month. It should also be noted that up until a decade ago, the asteroid-clogged Oort Cloud was believed to be stable. Recently, however, astronomers discovered the existence of a massive nebula that intersects this zone. The nebula system is currently in a state of temporary dormancy, but the astronomers believe that this intersection is a ticking time bomb that will at some point again shake loose swarms of asteroids into the solar system and Earth’s orbital path.
Nir Shaviv, professor of physics at the University of Toronto, has theorized that as the solar system passes through the galaxy’s spiral arms, major extinction events occur on Earth related to asteroid bombardment. His charts plotting Earth’s ice ages against our passage through the arms of the Milky Way corroborate this. “Statistically, it turns out to be a very good agreement if you take into account all the uncertainties,” he told BBC News Online. And in The Cycles of Cosmic Catastrophes, authors Richard Firestone, a physicist, and geologists Allen West and Simon Varwick-Smith describe research by astrophysicist Victor Clube and astronomer Bill Napier that analyzed the orbital patterns of various meteor showers that return to Earth annually, such as the Taurids, Perseids, Piscids, and Orionids. Clube and Napier discovered that many of these showers are related to each other in a very specific way, as are some of the other very large celestial objects, such as the comets Encke and Rudnicki, and the asteroids Oljato, Hephaistos, and many others. All of these originate from a massively huge comet that moved into the solar system around 200,000 years ago. Firestone, et al write “Clube and Napier also calculated that, because of the subtle changes in the orbits of Earth and the remaining cosmic debris, Earth crosses through the densest part of the giant comet clouds about every 2,000 to 4,000 years” (Firestone, et al 2006). They also note that “Clube and Napier forecast that in the year 2000 and continuing for 400 years, Earth would enter another dangerous time in which the planet’s changing orbit would bring us into a potential collision course with the densest part of the clouds, containing some very large debris.” We are at this very moment moving deeper into that 400-year zone of potential bombardment.
Notable Meteorite Bombardments
Tunguska Event. In 1908, a light as bright as the sun moved across the Siberian sky, followed by a tremendous explosion. Scientists now believe this event, which flattened trees for miles around, was caused by a meteor that exploded three to six miles (4–9 km) above the surface of the Earth. It emitted energy a thousand times more powerful than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Sikhote-Alin Meteorite. This 200,000-pound (90,718 kg) iron meteorite fell over eastern Siberia in 1947 and was witnessed by many people. The debris was scattered over an area greater than a kilometer, and it created a number of sizeable craters.
Chicxulub Crater. This crater in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is between 105 and 185 miles (170–300 km) in diameter. Impact models estimate the object was between six and ten miles (10–15 km) in diameter, and would have ejected 25,000 cubic miles (100,000 km3) of rock and debris. Such an impact would have killed everything for thousands of miles around, triggering earthquakes, tsunamis, and clouds that would have chilled the planet, halting plant growth.
Vredefort Crater. This crater in South Africa has a diameter of approximately 190 miles (306 km). It was created by a meteorite that was up to six miles (9 km) in diameter. Sudbury Basin. This gigantic crater in Ontario, Canada was formed by the impact of an extraterrestrial object about nine miles (14 km) in diameter. Debris from the impact has been found as far afield as Minnesota.
Sudbury Basin. This gigantic crater in Ontario, Canada was formed by the impact of an extraterrestrial object about nine miles (14 km) in diameter. Debris from the impact has been found as far afield as Minnesota.
Nördlinger Ries. This crater is located in Bavaria, Germany. The impact velocity is thought to have been about 20 km/s (45,000 mph). The resulting explosion had the power of 1.8 million Hiroshima bombs, and created an estimated 72,000 tons of tiny diamonds.
Though it has long been known that Earth’s ocean tides are caused by the moon’s gravitational pull, it has only recently been discovered that the changing conditions and positioning of stellar bodies and the planets in the solar system have a direct influence on Earth’s physical shape, ecosystem, tectonic-plate positioning, seismic and volcanic activity, climate patterns, and ocean oscillations. Recent and ongoing research confirms that the relationship between stellar bodies and planets in the solar system is directly correlated to solar activity, which is directly correlated to Earth’s fluctuating systems. This information is causing us to see Earth differently. For example, it is contributing to the development of a unified climate theory that understands much of Earth’s climate as an effect of exoterrestial processes. A striking example of this web of relationships is found in recent research findings related to the origins of the Sahara Desert, one of the most arid places on earth. We now know that between 10,000 and 5000 BCE, the area was wet and alive with trees and grasslands, and with herds of roaming animals and large human communities. Up until recently, it was believed that the desert formed gradually over a period of several millennia. New research is showing that the transformation took place in as little as a hundred years and quite possibly decades less, which is very fast in geological time. It’s believed that this sudden change was due to changes in the precessional orbit orientation of the Earth (Tierney 2013).
Here are a few other exoplanetary processes, among many, that affect Earth:
• A measurable bulge occurs at the equator when the moon is seen as full, affecting climate and seismic activity.
• A slight terrestrial temperature increase occurs during a full moon.
• There’s a lunar periodicity associated with heavy terrestrial rains.
• The gravitational tug of stellar bodies and planets even cause fluctuation in the strength of Earth’s gravity — for example, it drops slightly during solar eclipses when the moon and the sun are in line.
Let’s add it all up. Earth’s record shows beyond doubt that countless cataclysmic changes have taken place throughout Earth’s history, ranging from mild to wild. When events in the geological record are compared to ice-core data, the archaeological record, tree-ring analysis, and even human DNA, it becomes apparent that the atmosphere, climate, oceans, ecosystem, and Earth’s crust and core are all intimately interrelated and interactive; that this dynamic relationship is multilevel and cyclical; and that, periodically, catastrophic climate and geological changes take place, resulting in widespread upheaval. This upheaval has been accompanied by the die-off of life forms. The most recent cataclysmic global event appears to have taken place between 11,000 and 9000 BCE, resulting in an estimated 40 million animal deaths. The fossil records show what appear to be abrupt violent deaths of fish, birds, and animals from massive tsunamis, volcanic and seismic activity, flooding, and extreme fluctuations of heat and cold. Since that time, other periods of widespread catastrophe in various regions of the world have affected the entire globe to a lesser degree.
Although the mainstream sciences as a whole aren’t yet willing to attribute these synchronized events to any one specific cause, the evidence accumulating from research across various fields of inquiry doesn’t suggest an origination point within the earthsphere, as was believed until recently. We’re discovering that the numerous systems operating in Earth aren’t just intricately interconnected with each other — they also have a complex relationship with the physical properties of the cosmosphere. This interwoven relationship significantly determines the dynamic qualities of Earth’s operating systems and life forms. The reality of change and uncertainty inherent in our world is coming as a surprise to the people of modern society, who are severely estranged from the Earth and sky and have no knowledge of the planet’s turbulent history, even in relatively recent times. In this respect, modern society is very different from our ancient ancestors.
What Our Ancient Ancestors Knew
Our ancient ancestors were acutely aware that there’s a rhythm to these disruptive punctuations that we’ve looked at in this chapter, and that this rhythm is an effect of cycling celestial mechanics, as we’ll see in the following chapters. However, as a result of the “Age of Enlightenment,” a burst of scientific reasoning in the eighteenth century, our ancient ancestors’ records were dismissed in favor of an allegedly “objective” scientific method that has been rife with unconscious and blinding biases that we’ll look at in Chapter 10. This same scientific method, having discovered at least some of its biases, is now fueling the rediscovery of a critically important missing context that’s pivotal to ancient oral traditions, and with which all of life turns. This context supports contemporary discoveries in geology, climatology, oceanography, and astrophysics, and is making clear that planet Earth is, and has always been, an uncertain and dangerous place in which to live. As our ancient ancestors recorded, periodically and rhythmically, the globe shrugs, convulses, spasms. From time to time, it’s bombarded, boils, combusts, freezes, floods, dries up, and tips over. In our modern society, we’re profoundly alienated from Earth and sky, wholly absorbed in the minutiae of everyday life, and blind to just how active and dynamic our terrestrial home is. We’re no longer aware of the rhythms of this place that we exist in. This is a very modern madness.
Plato tells us of the Athenian statesman Solon, who, while visiting Egypt from Greece around 600 BCE, was told by his host Sonchis of Sais:
In mind you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient tradition, nor any science which is hoary with age. And I will tell you why. There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Phaeton, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around earth, and a great conflagration of things upon earth, which recurs after long intervals.
We too, in our current culture, are “all young”, and we have no science that is “hoary with age”, as Sonchis indicates. Our ancient ancestors were aware that the Earth and sky are in a perpetual everyday state of flux and uncertainty. They spoke of the cycles of destruction of earthly worlds (or suns or aeons), and the birth of new worlds. What they meant by worlds and suns and aeons are periods of time that are punctuated by varying degrees of catastrophic climatic and geological events caused by the patterns and processes of the cosmosphere. They knew the positions of the stars and constellations on particular dates of these cycling celestial patterns, and they noted that the patterns of stars and constellations continually shifted in the sky: a cosmic dance of startling precision. Some of their recorded observations are remarkably specific. Plato wrote in Politicus: “I mean the change in the rising and setting of the sun and the other heavenly bodies, how in those times they used to set in the quarter where they now rise, and used to rise where they now set.” This same observation was recorded on the ceiling of an ancient tomb in Egypt.
Our ancient ancestors, dating back tens of thousands of years, were advanced in philosophy, climatology, oceanography, metallurgy, chemistry, meteorology, ecosystems management, psychology, history, health and medicine, genetics, architecture, engineering, and agriculture. They were a brilliant, intellectually advanced people who lived in balance with the patterns of the cosmosphere while honoring and protecting the limits of the earthsphere. Some of their achievements involve knowledge and abilities that we’ve yet to rediscover in our modern culture (the building of the astonishing Great Pyramid of Giza is an excellent example, which we’ll look at closely later). Perhaps the most profound knowledge, however, involved the complex astronomy that much of the ancient world possessed all around the globe: precise measurements of the circumference of Earth and distances between planets, and astronomical measurements of time to within degrees of what our own sophisticated modern tools have determined. Measurements extended millions of years into the past, with a precision that rivals our own. And, importantly, they also left us an extensive record of periodic cosmological, terrestrial, ecological, and social upheaval.
We’ve been languishing in a relatively short period of climatic, geologic, and celestial stability, and we have been able to convince ourselves that Earth is solid and stable. This ignorance and denial of our home’s cataclysmic past and the cycles of time associated with it is a collective amnesia. Earth is neither solid nor stable, and never has been. Our ancient ancestors, who watched the stars and had long community memories, kept records of periodic catastrophes stretching back for many millennia (and it should be noted that the very term disaster is Greek for “upheaval in the stars”). Only fairly recently have we been able to decipher these records, and piece them together into a global narrative. Some are familiar; countless others are less well known, but no less compelling. We’ve been led to believe that these ancient records are irrelevant, primitive, religious, or psychological “archetypal” fantasies. As Adrienne Mayor, folklorist and historian of ancient science, points out, those who have been classically trained “tend to read myth as fictional literature, not as natural history” (Mayor 2000, 192). Our ancient ancestors, their impressive intellectual capabilities, and their comprehensive records have been necessarily trivialized, misinterpreted, or ignored to protect and enforce our own insular narratives of certainty, separateness, and superiority. However, both contemporary science and the extensive records left by our ancestors are increasingly confirming that it is, in fact, our narrow and inaccurate perception of the earthsphere and cosmosphere, the relationship that exists between them, and our embedded place within them, that’s radically incomplete.
In our modern society we like to think that we have an answer for everything … and that we know all the questions. We’re technologically advanced, and this gives us the impression that there’s very little that we don’t know. Admitting that we don’t know something is difficult for modern people, but as we’ll see in the following chapters, there are vast gaps modern peoples’ knowledge and awareness that have led to a hallucinatory view of existence and our place in it, and that prevent us from being contented and happy. Our notions of separate, solid, and certain are fictions. In the next chapter, we’ll learn about, and learn from, our brilliant ancestors.