Tuesday, January 4, 2011
James Lovelock was born in 1919 in the English county of Hertfordshire. He was a conscientious objector at the beginning of World War II, but Nazi atrocities convinced him to enlist. The military turned him down because he was engaged in medical research. He is the inventor of the electron capture detector, which can detect CFCs or pesticides in quantities as low a one part per trillion.
In the 1960s Lovelock was working for NASA, developing ways to detect life on other planets. He reasoned that chemical reactions would have stopped in the atmospheres of planets without life. This is the case on Mars and Venus, planets NASA thought might have life. Earth has lots of reactions in the atmosphere. For instance, methane and oxygen are constantly reacting in the air. But the composition of our atmosphere remains constant.
This was the beginning of Lovelock's "Gaia Hypothesis." (Say Guy-uh) Gases like oxygen and methane come from living things, so living things must be regulating their relative amounts. Beyond this, the Gaia Hypothesis says that life actively controls the temperature and composition of the Earth's atmosphere, and other parts of the Earth's surface. If the temperature or the atmospheric composition is disturbed, life will correct it by changes in the ecosystem. The climate, the air, the rocks, the ocean, and life are a single system.