Life as a Geological Force (1991) – Peter Westbroek

Westbroek‘s short book is a rather fascinating look at the way that living things intertwine and interact with what most of us consider to be ‘dead’ rocks, or geology. At one level is the creation of limestone at the bottom of the sea, from accumulations of tiny creatures that sink to the bottom.

But closer to the surface, in the Florida Bay (the area to the north of the Florida Keys), similar things are going on. An alga that grows on long grass ribbons in the sea constitutes a chalk mud factory (creating the conditions for their own propagation!).

In essence, the grass ribbons Philip held in his had were part of a living conveyor belt that accelerates the production of chalk mud. The vast numbers of grass leaves provide a huge surface for encrusting chalk-mud producers. They are continuously pushed up from the roots and then shed, so that they are actively replaced all the time. Of course, both components of the system – the grass and the calcified algae on them – depend on sunlight for their growth. They thrive in these shallow waters, protected from the turmoil of the open ocean, and they form enormous amounts of mud in a very short time.

Westbroek crosses over from geology to biology, and close study indicates that we are indeed linked in many ways to the planet we live on.

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