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Deep Secrets of Lake Vostok & The Fossil Fuel Myth

by on February 9, 2012 in Featured, Most Read, World

Deep Secrets of Lake Vostok & The Fossil Fuel Myth

After over 20 years and miles of drilling Russian scientists have just reached their goal, one of the oldest untouched bodies of freshwater on Earth, Lake Vostok in Antarctica.  Part of a vast chain of subglacial lakes, Vostok hasn’t been touched in 20 million years and carries with it the potential to not only unlock the origin of species, but to expose the myth of fossil fuels.

The massive network of deep lakes have been on the minds of scientists for years, according to the Associated Press:

 “The prospect of lakes hidden under Antarctic ice was first put forward by Russian scientist and anarchist revolutionary, Prince Pyotr Kropotkin at the end of the 19th century. Russian geographer Andrei Kapitsa pointed at the likely location of the lake and named it following Soviet Antarctic missions in the 1950s and 1960s, but it wasn’t until 1994 that its existence was proven by Russian and British scientists.”

What AP does not mention is that other scientists are also very excited namely proponents of the theory of abiotic petroleum origin which holds that oil is created in the upper mantel not by buried biological remains.  For instance, the late Thomas Gold in his final and most controversial work, Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels shared his wonderment over what secrets Vostok might reveal.

The ancient lake, similar in size to Lake Ontario, may play host to primeval bacteria and because of the extreme conditions it provides an extraordinary analog to the subsurface environments of Mars, Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and Jupiter’s moons Calysto, Gamine and Europa.  If life is found many of our widely held beliefs will be challenged.

The common narrative of the origin of species begins in some vague primordial goo, however, is it rarely explained to us what that soup might have consisted of.  Generally, the subsequent evolution is all that is emphasized.  According to abiotic theorists that primordial goo may in fact have been – oil.

However, contrary to the popular view that primordial soup collected in small pools from which mankind’s progenitor emerged, the most recent and well known abiotic theorist Thomas Gold argues there is a world of life was more likely to begin literally beneath our feet, deep in the Earth’s crust.

According to Gold, this possibility has been overlooked because we suffer from what he calls “surface chauvinism.”  Life, rather than relying on infinitely more complex processes like photosynthesis, turning sunlight into chemical energy, was able to begin by consuming chemical energy directly from sources carried within upwelling hydrocarbons.

According to Gold, only thereafter:

“photosynthesis developed in offshoots of subterranean life that had progressed toward the surface and then evolved a way to use [solar energy]  to supply even more chemical energy. When surface conditions became favorable to life (with regard to temperature, the presence of liquid water, the filtering of harsh components of solar radiation, and the termination of devastating asteroid impacts), a huge amount of surface life was able to spring up.”

From this view the real fossil fuel is atmospheric oxygen largely, albeit not entirely, derived and leftover from eons of bygone vegetation.

Evidence of deep life can be found in reports for example of an oil well in Alaska, which found life as far down as 4.2 kilometers into the Earth’s crust and at temperatures above 110°C.  This is well out of the way of atmospheric oxygen where microbes survive off hydrocarbons like methane.  These methanotrophs, methane eaters, according to Gold:

“…may be far from tangential members of the food web in the deep biosphere.  Indeed they may be the foundation of that system.”

Thus, since we cannot readily study these microbial life forms in their natural habitat we can study their ambassadors with whom they enjoy a symbiotic relationship.  Representatives of this unknown world can be found along the oceans’ hydrothermal vents and petroleum seeps, and in hot springs and methane-rich caves on land.  Lake Vostok, warmed by geothermal activity, may host similar Aliens of the Deep:

In the end Gold’s analysis of life in Earth merely supports his general thesis that today’s orgnanon is deprived of perspective.  By literally turning the current paradigm on its head it is easy to see where we may have been lead astray.  According to Gold:

“Hyrdrocarbons are not biology reworked by geology (as the traditional view would hold) but rather geology reoworked by biology.  In other words, hydrocarbons are primordial, but as they upwell into Earth’s outer crust, microbial life invades.”

We may have succumbed to one of the most common fallacies, post hoc ergo propter hoc.  Because we found biological remains in oil we reasoned it begot oil rather than oil begot life.

This makes little sense to us after disasters like the BP oil spill cover our surface friends like dolphins, shrimp and seagulls in thick sludge.  However, as the alien ambassadors attest the preference between carbohydrates or hydrocarbons is simply a matter of taste.

The idea that oil may be a renewable and sustainable resource reveals a strange type of dependency, not on oil itself, but the fear that we may be running out.  Our current political paradigm is in a Black Gold Stranglehold and would literally unravel if this brave new idea is widely accepted.  Through this lens what bizarre bedfellows are big oil and big environment, both of whom wish to see the price of oil high?


Topher Morrison is the editor and a regular contributor at GreeneWave and creator of his own blog at PurpleSerf.com. He holds B.A.s in Political Science and Philosophy from Arizona State University. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

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