What is the Gaia hypothesis?

In the 1960s, Dr James Lovelock, a British Scientist and inventor, first suggested the Gaia hypothesis, which proposed that the Earth can be viewed as a single living functioning system. The hypothesis was further developed by Lynn Margulis, a microbiologist at the University of Massachusetts, in the 1970s. The work of these two scientists suggests that all living organisms and their non-living environments are closely integrated to form one system which is self-regulating so that it maintains the conditions for life on Earth. It suggests that this living system has automatically controlled global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors, that maintains its own habitability. In a phrase, “life maintains conditions suitable for its own survival.”

Environmental scientists who work on the Gaia hypothesis gather observations on how the biosphere (the living component of the Earth) and the evolution of life contribute to the stability of the Earth’s temperature, ocean salinity and oxygen content of the air to establish a balance that provides the optimum conditions for life.In the past 15-20 years, many of the mechanisms by which Earth self-regulates have been identified. As one example, it has been shown that cloud formation over the open ocean is almost entirely a function of the metabolism of oceanic algae that emit a large sulfur molecule (as a waste gas) that becomes the condensation nuclei for raindrops. Previously, it was thought that cloud formation over the ocean was a purely chemical/physical phenomenon. The cloud formation not only helps regulate Earth’s temperature, it is an important mechanism by which sulfur is returned to terrestrial ecosystems.

When it was first proposed, the hypothesis received a hostile reception amongst the scientific community. But now it is considered in the study of Earth science and geophysiology as well as biogeochemistry and systems ecology.

For many centuries, people have discussed ideas of a holistic view of the Earth as an integrated, living whole. In ancient Greek mythology, Gaia was the goddess who personified the Earth. James Lovelock gave her name to his hypothesis following a suggestion from the novelist William Golding who based his idea on the name Gea – an alternative spelling for the Greek goddess. This is used as prefix in geology, geophysics and geochemistry. The Gaia theory came to prominence during the 1960s at the time of the ‘space race’ between the Soviet Union and the USA when people first saw images of the whole Earth taken from space.

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Should we consider scrapping the Gaia hypothesis?

Peter Ward shares his view point… What’s his stance? 

TASK: To what extend do you agree or disagree with Ward’s opinions and ideas? How so? Justify your view point. [650-700 words]. You can extend your research and knowledge on the issue if you wish, but be sure to include your reliable sources in a ‘Works Cited’ page to avoid plagiarism. [Hint: try googling Medea Hypothesis]

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