The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels


This book sets forth a set of truly controversial and astonishing theories: First, it proposes that below the surface of the earth is a biosphere of greater mass and volume than the biosphere the total sum of living things on our planet's continents and in its oceans. Second, it proposes that the inhabitants of this subterranean biosphere are not plants or animals as we know them, but heat-loving bacteria that survive on a diet consisting solely of hydrocarbons that is, natural gas and petroleum. And third and ...

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This book sets forth a set of truly controversial and astonishing theories: First, it proposes that below the surface of the earth is a biosphere of greater mass and volume than the biosphere the total sum of living things on our planet's continents and in its oceans. Second, it proposes that the inhabitants of this subterranean biosphere are not plants or animals as we know them, but heat-loving bacteria that survive on a diet consisting solely of hydrocarbons that is, natural gas and petroleum. And third and perhaps most heretically, the book advances the stunning idea that most hydrocarbons on Earth are not the byproduct of biological debris ("fossil fuels"), but were a common constituent of the materials from which the earth itself was formed some 4.5 billion years ago.
The implications are astounding. The theory proposes answers to often-asked questions: Is the deep hot biosphere where life originated, and do Mars and other seemingly barren planets contain deep biospheres? Even more provocatively, is it possible that there is an enormous store of hydrocarbons upwelling from deep within the earth that can provide us with abundant supplies of gas and petroleum?
However far-fetched these ideas seem, they are supported by a growing body of evidence, and by the indisputable stature and seriousness Gold brings to any scientific debate. In this book we see a brilliant and boldly original thinker, increasingly a rarity in modern science, as he develops potentially revolutionary ideas about how our world works.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
From the reviews:

"always original, always important, usually controversial, and usually right"

"an extraordinary theory from one of the world's most original minds."

"The leading supporter of the abiotic theory in the U.S. is Prof. Thomas Gold of Cornell. His 1999 book, The Deep Hot Biosphere (Springer-Verlag) is a thorough discussion of the issues. It is based in part on research financed by the U.S. Geological Survey. Among prominent scientists whose work supports the abiotic theory are Jean Whelan of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Mahlon Kennicutt of Texas A&M University, and J.F Kenny of the Gas Resources Corporation."

"There is much to be said about this important book … . Gold exhibits the irreversible and universal genius that we recognize in Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci. … The versatility and range of knowledge exhibited is remarkable. … The Deep Hot Biosphere is a highly interesting and important book; it should be required reading for every geology student." (David Deming, Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 17 (2), 2003)

"Thomas Gold is a physicist who is not afraid of controversy. … His big new theory … is that oil and natural gas are produced by geology and chemistry of the hot deep layers below the Earth’s surface … . The book is the best kind of science writing: contentious and passionate, with all the evidence there for you to weigh up." (New Scientist, August, 2001)

Wall Street Journal
...Thomas Gold, a respected astronomer and professor emeritus at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has held for years that oil is actually a renewable, primordial syrup continually manufactured by the Earth under ultrahot conditions and pressures.
USA Today
Gold might have grown tired of tilting at windmills long ago had he not destroyed so many.
Nature have to appreciate his fresh and comprehensive approach.... This book demonstrates that scientific debate is alive and well.
Physics World
Whatever the status of the upwelling gas theory, many of Gold's ideas deserve to be taken seriously.... the existence of The Deep Hot Biosphere could prove to be one of the monumental discoveries of our age. This book serves to set the record straight.
Current Science
Thomas Gold has questioned the very foundations of the entrenched conventional models.... The Deep Hot Biosphere is evidently one of the most controversial of all books published in recent history. It is bound to cause much debate, and, if found correct, is likely to revolutionize the face of science.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When scientists discovered thermophiles--primitive microorganisms that live in deep seafloor vents and eat hydrocarbons (chemicals like gasoline)--experts assumed the mysterious bugs had little to tell us about ourselves or about the earth's core. Cornell University Professor Emeritus Gold, however, who for 20 years directed the Cornell Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, here proposes the striking theory that "a full functioning... biosphere, feeding on hydrocarbons, exists deep within the earth, and that a primordial source of hydrocarbons lies even deeper." Most scientists think the oil we drill for comes from decomposed prehistoric plants. Gold believes it has been there since the earth's formation, that it supports its own ecosystem far underground and that life there preceded life on the earth's surface. The "deep hot biosphere" hypothesis would explain the thermophiles, the minerals and the oil Swedish drillers found in 1990 under rock where no one expected them. The hot goo and massed gas far under our feet would also explain some mysterious historical earthquakes (notably the New Madrid, Mo., shocker of 1811), and it would tell puzzled geologists why so many oil reserves just happen to sit underneath coal fields. As later chapters explain, if Gold is right, the planet's oil reserves are far larger than policymakers expect, and earthquake-prediction procedures require a shakeup; moreover, astronomers hoping for extraterrestrial contacts might want to stop seeking life on other planets and inquire about life in them. (Nov.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780387952536
  • Publisher: Springer New York
  • Publication date: 5/1/2001
  • Edition description: Softcover reprint of the original 1st ed. 1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 243
  • Product dimensions: 9.21 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword by Freeman Dyson; (1) Our Garden of Eden; (2) Life at the Borders; (3) The Deep-Earth Gas Theory; (4) Evidence for Deep-Earth Gas; (5) Resolviong the Petroleum Paradox; (6) The Siljan Experiment; (7) Extending the Theory; (8) Rethinking Earthquakes; (9) The Origin of Life; (10) What Next? // Notes // Acknowledgments // Index

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The first time I met Tommy Gold was in 1946, when I served as a guinea pig in an experiment that he was doing on the capabilities of the human ear. Humans have a remarkable ability to discriminate the pitch of musical sounds. We can easily tell the difference when the frequency of a pure tone wobbles by as little as 1 percent. How do we do it? This was the question that Gold was determined to answer. There were two possible answers. Either the inner ear contains a set of finely tuned resonators that vibrate in response to incident sounds, or the ear does not resonate but merely translates the incident sounds directly into neural signals that are then analyzed into pure tones by some unknown neural process inside our brains. In 1946, experts in the anatomy and physiology of the ear believed that the second answer must be correct: that the discrimination of pitch happens in our brains, not in our ears. They rejected the first answer because they knew that the inner ear is a small cavity filled with flabby flesh and water. They could not imagine the flabby little membranes in the ear resonating like the strings of a harp or a piano.
Gold designed his experiment to prove the experts wrong. The experiment was simple, elegant, and original. During World War II he had been working for the Royal Navy on radio communications and radar. He built his apparatus out of war surplus Navy electronics and headphones. He fed into the headphones a signal consisting of short pulses of a pure tone, separated by intervals of silence. The silent intervals were at least ten times longer than the period of the pure tone. The pulses were all the same shape, but they had phases that could be reversed independently. To reverse the phase of a pulse means to reverse the movement of the speaker in the headphone. The speaker in a reversed pulse is pushing the air outward when the speaker in an unreversed pulse is pulling the air inward. Sometimes Gold gave all the pulses the same phase, and sometimes he alternated the phases so that the even pulses had one phase and the odd pulses had the opposite phase. All I had to do was sit with the headphones on my ears and listen while Gold fed in signals with either constant or alternating phases. Then I had to tell him, from the sound, whether the phase was constant or alternating.
When the silent interval between pulses was ten times the period of the pure tone, it was easy to tell the difference. I heard a noise like a mosquito, a hum and a buzz sounding together, and the quality of the hum changed noticeably when the phases were changed from constant to alternating. We repeated the trials with longer silent intervals. I could still detect the difference, even when the silent interval was as long as thirty periods. I was not the only guinea pig. Several other friends of Gold listened to the signals and reported similar results. The experiment showed that the human ear can remember the phase of a signal, after the signal stops, for thirty times the period of the signal. To be able to remember phase, the ear must contain finely tuned resonators that continue to vibrate during the intervals of silence. The result of the experiment proved that pitch discrimination is done mainly in the ear, not in the brain.
Besides having experimental proof that the ear can resonate, Gold also had a theory to explain how a finely tuned resonator can be built out of flabby and dissipative materials. His theory was that the inner ear contains an electrical feedback system. The mechanical resonators are coupled to electrically powered sensors and drivers, so that the combined electromechanical system works like a finely tuned amplifier. The positive feedback provided by the electrical components counteracts the damping produced by the flabbiness of the mechanical components. Gold's experience as an electrical engineer made this theory seem plausible to him, although he could not identify the anatomical structures in the ear that functioned as sensors and drivers. In 1948 he published two papers, one reporting the results of the experiment and the other describing the theory.
Having myself participated in the experiment and having listened to Gold explaining the theory, I never had any doubt that he was right. But the professional auditory physiologists were equally sure that he was wrong. They found the theory implausible and the experiment unconvincing. They regarded Gold as an ignorant outsider intruding into a field where he had no training and no credentials. For years his work on hearing was ignored, and he moved on to other things.
Thirty years later, a new generation of auditory physiologists began to explore the ear with far more sophisticated tools. They discovered that everything Gold had said in 1948 was true. The electrical sensors and drivers in the inner ear were identified. They are two different kinds of hair cells, and they function in the way Gold said they should. The community of physiologists finally recognized the importance of his work, forty years after it was published.
Gold's study of the mechanism of hearing is typical of the way he has worked throughout his life. About once every five years, he invades a new field of research and proposes an outrageous theory that arouses intense opposition from the professional experts in the field. He then works very hard to prove the experts wrong. He does not always succeed. Sometimes it turns out that the experts are right and he is wrong. He is not afraid of being wrong. He was famously wrong (or so it is widely believed) when he promoted the theory of a steady—state universe in which matter is continuously created to keep the density constant as the universe expands. He may have been wrong when he cautioned that the moon may present a dangerous surface, being covered by a fine, loose dust. It proved indeed to be so covered, but fortunately no hazards were encountered by the astronauts. When he is proved wrong, he concedes with good humor. Science is no fun, he says, if you are never wrong. His wrong ideas are insignificant compared with his far more important right ideas. Among his important right ideas was the theory that pulsars, the regularly pulsing celestial radio—sources discovered by radio—astronomers in 1967, are rotating neutron stars. Unlike most of his right ideas, his theory of pulsars was accepted almost immediately by the experts.
Another of Gold's right ideas was rejected by the experts even longer than his theory of hearing. This was his theory of the 90—degree flip of the axis of rotation of the earth. In 1955, he published a revolutionary paper entitled "Instability of the Earth's Axis of Rotation." He proposed that the earth's axis might occasionally flip over through an angle of 90 degrees within a time on the order of a million years, so that the old north and south poles would move to the equator, and two points of the old equator would move to the poles. The flip would be triggered by movements of mass that would cause the old axis of rotation to become unstable and the new axis of rotation to become stable. For example, a large accumulation of ice at the old north and south poles might cause such an exchange of stability. Gold's paper was ignored by the experts for forty years. The experts at that time were focusing their attention narrowly on the phenomenon of continental drift and the theory of plate tectonics. Gold's theory had nothing to do with continental drift or plate tectonics, so it was of no interest to them. The flip predicted by Gold would occur much more rapidly than continental drift, and it would not change the positions of continents relative to one another. The flip would change the positions of continents only relative to the axis of rotation.
In 1997, Joseph Kirschvink, an expert on rock magnetism at the California Institute of Technology, published a paper presenting evidence that a 90—degree flip of the rotation axis actually occurred during a geologically short time in the early Cambrian era. This discovery is of great importance for the history of life, because the time of the flip appears to coincide with the time of the "Cambrian Explosion," the brief period when all the major varieties of higher organisms suddenly appear in the fossil record. It is possible that the flip of the rotation axis caused profound environmental changes in the oceans and triggered the rapid evolution of new life forms. Kirschvink gives Gold credit for suggesting the theory that makes sense of his observations. If the theory had not been ignored for forty years, the evidence that confirms it might have been collected sooner.
Gold's most controversial idea is the non—biological origin of natural gas and oil. He maintains that natural gas and oil come from reservoirs deep in the earth and are relics of the material out of which the earth condensed. The biological molecules found in oil show that the oil is contaminated by living creatures, not that the oil was produced by living creatures. This theory, like his theories of hearing and of polar flip, contradicts the entrenched dogma of the experts. Once again, Gold is regarded as an intruder ignorant of the field he is invading. In fact, Gold is an intruder, but he is not ignorant. He knows the details of the geology and chemistry of natural gas and oil. His arguments supporting his theory are based on a wealth of factual information. Perhaps it will once again take us forty years to decide whether the theory is right. Whether the theory of non—biological origin is ultimately found to be right or wrong, collecting evidence to test it will add greatly to our knowledge of the earth and its history.
Finally, the most recent of Gold's revolutionary proposals, the theory of the deep hot biosphere, is the subject of this book. The theory says that the entire crust of the earth, down to a depth of several miles, is populated with living creatures. The creatures that we see living on the surface are only a small part of the biosphere. The greater and more ancient part of the biosphere is deep and hot. The theory is supported by a considerable mass of evidence. I do not need to summarize this evidence here, because it is clearly presented in the pages that follow. I prefer to let Gold speak for himself. The purpose of my remarks is only to explain how the theory of the deep hot biosphere fits into the general pattern of Gold's life and work.
Gold's theories are always original, always important, usually controversial—and usually right. It is my belief, based on fifty years of observation of Gold as a friend and colleague, that the deep hot biosphere is all of the above: original, important, controversial—and right.

— by Freeman Dyson
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  • Posted February 24, 2010

    Wher the Hydrocarbon (Fossil?) fuel comes from.

    A compelling and comprehensive look at the oil, gas, and coal situation and how past ideas have developed a situation that is in error. How we can succeed in maintaining our full supply. Written by a professional (Astronimer) without the bias of an oil man.

    It is unfortunate that he died so soon after publishing his work.

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