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For this essay’s purposes, the most important ecological understanding is that the Sun provides all of earthly life’s energy, either (all except nuclear-powered electric lights driving photosynthesis in greenhouses, as that energy came from dead stars). Today’s hydrocarbon energy that powers our industrial world comes from captured sunlight. Exciting electrons with photon energy, then stripping off electrons and protons and using their electric potential to power biochemical reactions, is what makes Earth’s ecosystems possible. Too little energy, and reactions will not happen (such as ice ages, enzyme poisoning, the darkness of night, food shortages, and lack of key nutrients that support biological reactions), and too much (such as , ionizing radiation, temperatures too high for enzyme activity), and life is damaged or destroyed. The journey of life on Earth has primarily been about adapting to varying energy conditions and finding levels where life can survive. For the many hypotheses about those ancient events and what really happened, the answers are always primarily in energy terms, such as how it was obtained, how it was preserved, and how it was used. For life scientists, that is always the framework, and they devote themselves to discovering how the energy game was played.
How Good are those Young-Earth Arguments: Hovind's …
A has challenged The Expensive-Tissue Hypothesis, at least as far as robbing energy from the digestive system to fuel the brain. The study compared brain and intestinal size in mammals and found no strong correlation, but there was an inverse correlation between brain size and body fat. But since human fat does not impede our locomotion much, humans have combined both strategies for reducing the risk of starvation. Whales have bucked the trend, also because being fatter does not impede their locomotion and provides energy-conserving insulation. A human infant’s brain uses about 75% of its energy, and baby fat seems to be brain protection, so that it does not easily run out of fuel. However, the rapid evolutionary growth of an energy-demanding organ like the human brain seems unique or nearly so in the history of life on Earth, and comparative anatomy studies may have limited explanatory utility. There are great debates today on how fast the human brain grew, what coevolutionary constraints may have limited the brain’s development (, , ), and scientific investigations are in their early days.
Part of the hypothesis for skyrocketing oxygen levels during the late Proterozoic was that high carbon dioxide levels, combined with a continent that had been ground down by glaciers, and the resumption of the hydrological cycle, which would have vanished during the Snowball Earth events, would have created conditions of dramatically increased erosion, which would have buried carbon (the cap carbonates are part of that evidence) and thus helped oxygenate the atmosphere. Evidence for that increased erosion also came in the form of strontium isotope analysis. Two of strontium’s stable isotopes are . Earth’s mantle is enriched in strontium-86 while the crust is enriched in strontium-87, so basalts exposed to the ocean in the oceanic volcanic ridges are enriched in strontium-86 while continental rocks are enriched in strontium-87. If erosion is higher than normal, then ocean sediments will be enriched in strontium-87, which analysis of Ediacaran sediments confirmed. That evidence, combined with carbon isotope ratios, provides a strong indication of high erosion and high carbon burial, which would have increased atmospheric oxygen levels. There is other evidence of increasing atmospheric oxygen content during the late Proterozoic, such as an increase in rare earth elements in Ediacaran sediments. Although there is still plenty of controversy, today's consensus is that the Cryogenian is when , where they have largely stayed, although as this essay will later discuss, oxygen levels have varied widely since the late Proterozoic (from perhaps only a few percent to 35%).