James Lovelock

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James Lovelock

Lovelock in 2005
Born 26 July 1919 (1919-07-26) (age 94)
Letchworth, Hertfordshire, England, UK
Residence England, UK
Nationality British
Fields Chemistry, earth science
Institutions Independent researcher
Alma mater University of Manchester
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
University of London
Harvard Medical School
Known for Electron capture detector
Gaia hypothesis
Notable awards FRS, 1974
Tswett Medal, 1975
ACS, 1980
WMO Norbert Gerbier Prize, 1988
Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for the Environment, 1990
CBE, 1990
Volvo Environment Prize, 1996
CH, 2003
Wollaston Medal[5], 2006
Arne Naess Chair in Global Justice and the Environment [6], 2007

James Ephraim Lovelock CH CBE FRS (born 26 July 1919) is an independent scientist who lives in Devon. He became an environmentalist and futurologist. He is best known for proposing the Gaia theory. This suggests the biosphere is a self-regulating system which keeps our planet healthy by controlling the environment.

After the development of an instrument in the late 1960s, Lovelock was the first to detect the widespread presence of CFCs in the atmosphere.[1] He found a concentration of 60 parts per trillion of CFC-11 over Ireland. He went on to measure the concentration of CFC-11 from the northern hemisphere to the Antarctic aboard the research ship RRS Shackleton.[2][3]

Gaia[change | edit source]

Lovelock developed his Gaia ideas after working for NASA on detecting life on Mars.[4]

The Gaia hypothesis proposes that living and non-living parts of the Earth form a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism.[5][6] Named after the Greek goddess Gaia at the suggestion of novelist William Golding,[3] the idea is that the biosphere has a regulatory effect on the Earth's environment which acts to sustain life.

While the idea was readily accepted by many in the environmentalist community, it has not been widely accepted by other scientists. Among its more famous critics are the evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins, Ford Doolittle, and Stephen Jay Gould.[7] Lovelock has responded to these criticisms with models such as Daisyworld, which illustrate how individual-level effects can translate to planetary homeostasis, under the right circumstances.

Global warming[change | edit source]

In Lovelock's 2006 book, The Revenge of Gaia, he argues that the destruction of rainforests weakens Gaia's capacity to control greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. If so, the planet's negative feedbacks would weaken, and global warming would continue to increase.

The warming of the oceans is extending the oceanic thermocline layer of tropical oceans over the Arctic and Antarctic waters. This would prevent the rise of oceanic nutrients into the surface waters and eliminate the algal blooms of phytoplankton. As phytoplankton and forests are the main ways in which Gaia draws down carbon dioxide, taking it out of the atmosphere, the elimination of this environmental buffering will see, according to Lovelock, most of the earth becoming uninhabitable for humans and other life-forms by the middle of this century, with a massive extension of tropical deserts. This rather extreme view is held by only a few other scientists.

In his most recent book, "The Vanishing Face of Gaia",[8] he suggests that we may already be beyond the tipping point of terrestrial climate into a permanently hot state. Given these conditions, Lovelock expects human civilization will be hard pressed to survive. He expects the change to be similar to the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum when atmospheric concentration of CO2 was 450 ppm. At that point the Arctic Ocean was 23 °C and had crocodiles in it,[9][10] with the rest of the world mostly scrub and desert.

Geoengineering[change | edit source]

In September 2007, Lovelock and Chris Rapley proposed the construction of ocean pumps to pump water up from below the thermocline to "fertilize algae in the surface waters and encourage them to bloom".[11] The basic idea was to accelerate the transfer of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the ocean by increasing photosynthesis and increasing the export of organic carbon (as "marine snow") to the deep ocean. A scheme similar to that proposed by Lovelock and Rapley is being independently developed by a commercial company.[12]

Lovelock subsequently said that his proposal was intended to stimulate interest, and research would be the next step.[8]

References[change | edit source]

  1. Lovelock J.E. 1971. Atmospheric fluorine compounds as indicators of air movements. Nature 230 (5293): 379. [1]
  2. Lovelock J.E; Maggs R.J. & Wade R.J. 1973. Halogenated hydrocarbons in and over the Atlantic. Nature 241 (5386): 194–196. [2]
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lovelock J.E. 1989. The Ages of Gaia. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-286090-9
  4. Lovelock J.E. 1965. A physical basis for life detection experiments. Nature 207 (7): 568–570. [abstract not available]
  5. Lovelock J.E. 1972. Gaia as seen through the atmosphere. Atmospheric Environment 6 (8): 579–580. [3]
  6. Lovelock J.E. & Margulis L. 1974. Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere – The Gaia hypothesis. Tellus 26 (1): 2–10. [4]
  7. Dawkins, Richard 1982. The extended phenotype. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-288051-9
  8. 8.0 8.1 Lovelock, James 2009. The vanishing face of Gaia: a final warning: enjoy it while you can. Allen Lane. ISBN 978-1-84614-185-0
  9. Russill, Chris; Nyssa, Zoe 2009.. "The tipping point trend in climate change communication". Global Environmental Change 19 (3): 336–344. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2009.04.001.
  10. Pagani M. et al 2006.. "Atmosphere: an ancient carbon mystery" (PDF). Science 314 (5805): 1556–1557. doi:10.1126/science.1136110. PMID 17158314. http://earth.geology.yale.edu/~mp364/data/2006Pagani.Science.pdf.
  11. Lovelock, James E.; Rapley, Chris G. 2007. "Ocean pipes could help the Earth to cure itself". Nature 449 (7161): 403–403. doi:10.1038/449403a. PMID 17898747.
  12. Biological Ocean Sequestration of CO2 using atmocean upwelling Atmocean. Retrieved 3 October 2007.