IF I SEEK US
Modern Myth Articles
A World With One Season II
One of the main reasons why some paleo-climatologists have been reluctant to accept a former universal spring-like environment to account for the previous existence of Arctic and Antarctic sub-tropical flora and fauna is that evidence exists which does seem to point to past seasonal stability. This evidence comes from tree rings. As every Boy Scout knows, tree trunks are marked out in transverse section into concentric rings, one ring for each “season” of growth. In order to tell the age of a felled tree, Boy Scouts are taught to count the number of rings laid out in its trunk. Known as annular rings, these growth marks owe their emergence to differences in the elements at the beginning and end of each growing period.
Fossilized trees from various past ages show distinct annular rings. Others do not. Wood retrieved from late Paleozoic deposits in the southern hemisphere has been said to show pronounced ring growths. So, also, fossils of deciduous trees from the Cretaceous. In fact, fossilized wood samples ranging all the way from the Devonian to the Eocene have been claimed to show well marked annular rings. More recent work has tended to show that rings are either lacking or very weak in all known specimens from the Devonian period which seems to indicate a non-seasonal environment. Most fossil trees from the Carboniferous period, which followed the Devonian, also lack rings. As Elso Barghoorn noted:
“One impressive indicator of uniform climate over great areas of the Carboniferous continents is the great absence of annual growth rings in coal-swamp trees. The entire question of ring development in woody plants is one fraught with botanical variables as well as climatic variables. However, the consistent absence of any index of seasonal growth seems difficult to explain except on the assumption that winter cold and seasonality of rainfall were absent or at a minimum."
By the time we come to the late Permian period, still within the Paleozoic era, we end up with a mixed bag. Fossil woods from Canada, Europe, and Asia have weak or non-existent rings, while those from South America, Africa, and Antarctica show prominent and wide growth rings. A mixed bag from trees growing in different areas may be expected. But what about a similar mixed bag from trees known to have grown in the same locality? Thus, moving slightly closer to our time, we come to the Triassic period of the Mesozoic era. Few fossil trees are known from this period and, up till now, all of them come from Arizona’s petrified forest. One specimen from this collection lacks annular markings, but others display very wide prominent rings. In samples from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods of the same Mesozoic era, as well as from the Early Tertiary period, tree rings range from prominent to non-existent.
When it comes to polar fossil plants, as Edward Berry noted: “Detailed comparisons of these Arctic floras with contemporary floras from lower latitudes…show unmistakable evidence for the existence of climatic zones…” C. P. Brooks reached the same opinion, claiming that climatic zones existed in the Eocene, as so did Ralph Chaney, who pushed the margin up to the Pliocene. As Jane Francis noted, samples of wood collected by her on Axel Heiberg Island showed clear annular rings over a quarter of an inch wide. And, because the darker latewood added at the end of the growing season featured very narrow bands, the conclusion has been drawn that the trees grew rapidly during the twenty-four hour sunshine period of the Arctic summer and then closed up shop during the winter hours of darkness.
The problem with this, however, is that trees would not have survived such prolonged periods of darkness. And then there is the fauna to consider. What—did tapirs and crocodiles sleep through these darkened months? Could land tortoises have migrated to warmer climes and back again every year? Besides, where did the warmth that would have been needed to thaw the Arctic ice cap come from? The present Sun is not capable of accomplishing that feat. And if the Sun, as accepted by orthodoxy, had been dimmer in those eras, it would have been able to accomplish it even less. Or are we to believe that sub-tropical flora and fauna existed in an ice-bound region, and for millions of years at that?
Needless to say, the evidence of the tree rings poses just as much of a problem to the Saturnian scenario we have been considering. All of which forces us to ask yet another question: Are annular rings really indicative of seasonality?
Actually, annular rings are only formed in those plants whose growth is interrupted by a regular winter or dry “season.” The increment of new wood formed in these trees is marked by a distinct line which is produced by the contrast between the late summer of one year and the spring of the next. The lines of separation between successive rings marks the limit of a microscopically thin layer of cells, known as the cambium, which lies between the wood and the bark, at the end of each successive growth period. The bark then cracks and/or expands to allow for the new growth of wood, and the tree trunk is thus thickened. It should be noted, however, that the cambium responds mainly to conditions of temperature and rainfall rather than the incidence of light.
But what about trees growing in tropical and equatorial regions where seasonal differences disappear? Do they still grow rings? As it happens, many kinds of evergreen tropical trees do not grow rings. But others do. As Barghoorn reported: “In existing woody plants, annual ring development may occur under nearly uniform climatic conditions, as in equatorial rainforests.” What, then, is it in this seasonless environment that tells these trees that a year has passed and that it is time to grow more wood and thus form a new ring?
That the growth of annular rings is not tied to seasonal change is evidenced by the fact that some trees have been known to grow as much as three or four rings in one year. Nor is this an uncommon situation, as Nelson Glueck noted, especially in trees which grow on sloping ground that turns wet and dry several times in one year because of rapid outflow of water. According to an item in Nature magazine, multiple rings in larch trees were normal in 1919; in fact, larches seem to be prone to multiple ring growth.
Meanwhile, trees which miss growing a ring in certain years have also been known. As Herbert Sorensen pointed out:
“In dry and climatically harsh years, no detectable growth may occur. In this case no ring is formed and the ring is missing for that season of the year.”
In some cases, as much as five percent of the rings may be missing. In fact, growth rings are lacking in a majority of trees which thrive in subtropical and tropical climates while others fail to grow rings regardless of climate.
What all of this declares is that tree rings are poor indicators of seasonal change. In fact, let us be honest about it, they are not indicative of seasonal change at all. But if tree rings do not indicate seasonal change, what, then, do they indicate?
We have already noted that the cambium responsible for the growth of trees responds mainly to conditions of temperature and rainfall rather than the incidence of light. And, in fact, when it comes to the growth rate of trees, water is the limiting factor. In other words, water is the one true constituent which limits the growth of cambium and thus the formation of growth rings. This is what tree rings, when they grow at all, truly indicate—a cycle dictated by the availability and cessation of an adequate water supply.
That being the case, the lower incidence of light from the Saturnian sun, as compared to the higher incidence from our present sun, would have posed no obstacle to the growth of trees. Temperature would also have posed no problem because, while the Saturnian sun would not have been as hot as our present Sun, its proximity to Earth would have compensated for its lower caloric output.
As we have seen, it is quite apparent that trees grow rings, or fail to grow rings, regardless of seasonal change or stability. More importantly, if trees can, as they do, grow rings in tropical and equatorial regions in which there is no appreciable seasonal change, what is so problematic with having trees growing rings in a sub-tropical Arctic which enjoyed but one spring-like season?
THE AXIAL TILT HYPOTHESIS
Some might ask: Why not leave Earth in the Solar System and simply straighten Earth’s axis?
This, too, would have ensured a world with one season, an eternal spring. And as difficult as it might be to later tilt Earth’s axis to the angle it now holds, it seems more feasible than the hypothesis we have been proposing. This, in fact, had been suggested by various authorities at the end of the nineteenth century as, for instance, by Julius Hann: “The simplest and most obvious explanation of great secular changes in climate, and of former prevalence of higher temperatures in northern circumpolar regions, would be found in the assumption that earth’s axis of rotation has not always had the same position, but that it may have changed its position as a result of geological processes, such as extended rearrangement of land and water.”
By an “extended rearrangement of land and water,” Hann had in mind a redistribution of the weight brought upon the surface of Earth by the elevation of land in one place and the sinking of others in a different locale. But, as James Croll pointed out: “A continent ten times the size of Europe elevated two miles would do little more than bring London to the latitude of Edinburgh, or Edinburgh to the latitude of London.”
This debate involved some of the giants of science that lived at the time, including William Thomson (better known as Lord Kelvin), George Darwin, Simon Newcomb, and Giovanni Schiaparelli, the latter of whom wrote:
“The permanence of the geographical poles in the very same regions of the earth cannot yet be considered as incontestably established by astronomical or mechanical arguments. Such permanence may be a fact today, but it remains a matter still to be proven for the preceding ages of the history of the globe.”
To which he added:
“The possibility of great shifting of the pole is an important element in the discussion of prehistoric climates and the distribution, geographic and chronologic, of ancient organisms. If this possibility is admitted, it will open new horizons for the study of great mechanical revolutions that the crust of the earth underwent in the past.”
The axial tilt debate then spilled into the early years of the twentieth century. Thus, in 1929, Harold Jeffreys could still ask: “Has the inclination of the earth’s axis to the plane of its orbit varied during its history?” As he himself confessed: “The answer to [this] question is a definite ‘Yes!’” By 1937, W. B. Wright continued to maintain that “the earth’s axis of rotation has not always had the same position” and that the “many changes of the position of the climatic zones on the surface of the earth” were “due to a displacement of the pole from its present position.”
In this respect it is noteworthy to note that when, in the 1980s, remains of sub-tropical flora and fauna were discovered by Soviet scientists in Spitsbergen, the axial tilt hypothesis was revived and, as of now, continues to be the standing Russian (previously Soviet) understanding of what had to have transpired in ages past.
According to Bernard Delair, theoretically, Earth ought to rotate on a vertical axis “and may actually have done so in the geologically recent past.” As he stated: “There ought to be no reason why any Earth-like planet undisturbed for untold ages should not have a vertically-positioned axis.”
Unfortunately, there are various problems with the axial tilt hypothesis. To begin with, Delair’s declaration did not go unchallenged. As Michael Reade pointed out, “a spinning ball forced to traverse an elliptical orbit around a primary would adopt a tilted attitude.” As he, in turn, assured his readers, “it is never possible to get a free-spinning ball to spin with its axis either vertical or horizontal: the principal axis of the ball always settles to a well-defined and seemingly invariable angle of tilt.” This, as Reade pointed out, “has long been known to engineers: spinning bodies, such as turbines or speed governors, impose asymmetric stresses on their shaft bearings.”
True, as Jane Francis noted, had Earth’s axis been perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic, the Sun would have bathed the polar regions with twelve hours of light every day. The Sun’s rays, however, would have been weak and low-angled, similar to those experienced just before sunset. And this would have been insufficient for the growth of plants such as the remains of which have been discovered in polar regions.
At bottom lies this additional fact: While the axes of the Solar System planets point in different directions, those of Saturn and Earth come close to coinciding. Saturn is tilted at 26.7 degrees while Earth’s tilt is at 23.45 degrees. Both axes point to about the same spot in space. Saturn’s present north star is the same as Earth’s. This is a situation that would be expected had Saturn and Earth once shared the same axis of rotation as the thesis being expounded here demands.
How about, then, a perpendicular axis with an Earth in phase-lock around proto-Saturn, much in the manner in which the Moon is presently phase-locked around Earth, even if the Saturnian system was outside the Solar System? This, too, fails to fill the bill because, while such a system would entail a world without variable seasons, it does not occasion one universal spring-like climate. Only that hemisphere facing proto-Saturn would have been able to bask in perpetual warmth, while the other hemisphere would have experienced perpetual cold. More than that, even that hemisphere facing proto-Saturn would not have reveled in a uniform warm regime. True enough, the climate would not have been variable, but tropical and equatorial regions would still have been much warmer than the poles. The poles, in fact, would have been the recipients of low slanting rays and if such slanting rays from our own Sun would have been inadequate to allow the thriving of sub-tropical flora and fauna at the poles, neither would the slanting rays from a brown dwarf star.
This brings us to the question I asked at the end of the first part of this paper: How could proto-Saturn, permanently stationed above Earth’s north polar region, have also warmed Earth’s southern pole, to say nothing of the latitudes in between?
A DENSER ATMOSPHERE
In 1991, Frederic Jueneman proposed a hypothesis in which he indicated that Earth might once have been cocooned in a more massive atmospheric envelope. This hypothesis is not foreign to orthodox astronomy. In 1997, Armand Delsemme had also proposed a terrestrial envelope “100 times denser than the present atmosphere.”
Although those who have posited this hypothesis have done so for reasons of their own, this proposal can be extended to encompass a greenhouse environment. Under such conditions, the warmth radiated by the north polar Saturnian sun would have penetrated Earth’s dense envelope, which would have also helped to spread it around, while disallowing it to re-penetrate back out and dissipating in space. This is the mechanism which astronomers presently accept to account for the excessive heating of the planet Venus.
One problem this poses for the Saturnian model is that such a dense atmosphere might have hidden proto-Saturn from terrestrial view, and we know from man’s own fossilized memory that this was not the case. True, man was not yet on the scene during the Tertiary period so, perhaps, this should not concern us too much. Besides, there is the possibility that the Saturnian sun could still be seen in a diffused sort of way through the heavy clouds. At present, the same is true on Venus since the Venera photographs of its surface show shadows. It is thus thought that “a hazy Sun” might be “shining over Venus’s surface,” and that such a “hazy Sun” would be visible in the sky.
An alternative way in which this theory could be brought in line with the Saturnian model is if Earth’s dense atmospheric envelope exhibited a north polar clearing—a hole if you wish. Again, such a polar opening in a planet’s atmosphere is not all that foreign in the Solar System. Venus has such a polar opening—a “huge hollow” 1,000 kilometers wide—in its own dense atmosphere right over its north pole, through which the Sun might possibly be shining. If such was the case, the Saturnian sun would have been clearly seen through the opening. More than that, it would have warmed Earth’s Arctic regions even more effectively. Unfortunately, a lamentable objection has to be raised against this hypothesis since the proximity of the proto-Saturnian sun would have raised Earth’s atmosphere in a tide precisely above Earth’s north polar region. Thus, if a denser atmosphere did prevail on Earth, it would have to have lacked a polar opening.
THE PLASMA SHEATH
An alternative hypothesis is to have the Saturnian system encased within a plasma sheath. The first person I know to come up with this hypothesis, as early as 1976, was Ralph Juergens. “Presumably,” he wrote, “both [Saturn and Earth] would be enveloped in a common magnetosphere which…I would equate with a sheath between the solar-wind plasma and any material body, or closely coupled systems of bodies, at non-plasma potential.” In 1981, Roger Ashton extended this idea by supplying this plasma bubble, which is what a magnetosphere really is, with an opaque surface that would have reflected proto-Saturn’s radiation back toward both Saturn and its terrestrial satellite. Similarly, Wallace Thornhill, many years later suggested that the “heat and light of an electric star [such as he believes the proto-Saturnian brown dwarf star to have been] is radiated both outwards and inwards from the photosphere”; that “Earth, situated inside the speherical envelope of such a star…would find the energy flux almost equal over the entire planet”; and that “all objects orbiting in that region would receive the same energy per unit area of their surface.”
In the end, it may even be found that both postulates—a denser atmospheric envelope and a plasma sheath—are quite compatible with each other, since a denser terrestrial atmospheric envelope might have existed within the Saturnian plasma sheath. We would thus have a situation in which the light and heat from the proto-Saturnian sun would have been reflected back, or otherwise radiated outward and inward, from the plasma sheath and dissipated evenly through the greenhouse property of Earth’s denser atmosphere.
CLUES FROM ASTRONOMY
Is evidence concerning any of this available from other planets of the Solar system? Only to an extent because, after all, the case I have been presenting is somewhat unique—which is not to say that similar systems might not yet be discovered out in space. Meanwhile, the extent to which other planets can provide some evidence, no matter how slim, is exemplified by Uranus. Very much like the Saturnian system I have been describing, the temperature of Uranus is not only globally warm, but, again like proto-Saturn, its north pole was found to be warmer than the rest of the planet. Of added interest here is that when Voyager 2 made this discovery, the north pole had been in darkness for forty years. As Thornhill indicated: “This offers a clue as to how the Earth might have had a uniform global climate during the Saturnian era…”
Even more recently, it has been discovered that Jupiter’s satellite, Io, also has its poles as warm as its equator. “Aside from hot spots at volcanic sites, night temperatures on Io appear to be about the same near the equator as near the poles even though, as on Earth, the equator gets more direct sunshine to heat the surface.”
True, Uranus and Io do not have a north polar sun to heat their northern regions, and I only include these data to show that such a state of affairs—global uniform temperature with a slightly warmer north pole—is not of itself a bizarre situation.
That being the case, what need have we of an axial alignment between proto-Saturn and Earth? Why do we need to have the proto-Saturnian sun stationed in Earth’s north celestial pole to account for the single spring-like season in which the Earth basked in past geologic eras. After all, this state of affairs could just as easily have come about had Earth been in a normal orbit around its primary. In other words, nothing I have presented so far demands an axial alignment of the two bodies concerned.
But consider now the following:
THE BOREAL CRADLE
Back in 1868, Heer’s study of fossil Arctic flora led him to postulate that the Arctic had served as the centre of new generations of plants which then radiated south to America, Europe, and Asia. To quote Ian Johnson:
“These migrations of new plant species and groups, which originated in the Arctic and then became closely related ‘vicarious’ species through simultaneous differentiation, elegantly account for the mysterious similarity of tree and shrub vegetation in such scattered locations as eastern Asia and Atlantic North America. This theory also explained the resemblance noted by Heer of the Tertiary flora of Europe and the Recent flora of eastern Asia and Atlantic North America.”
As Johnson noted, while Heer’s theory dates to the late 19th century, his “notion of an Arctic evolutionary cradle is startlingly modern, in line with the work of Dawson and Hickey” to which we shall come in a while.
E. C. Pielou, on the other hand, reminded her readers of photoperiodism which presents an “apparent obstacle to long, northward and southward migration of plants” since such migrations would have moved said plants out of their physiological niche. Long-day plants, for instance, cannot survive in the tropics, while short-day plants cannot thrive in more northern latitudes. This is because the photoperiodic length varies from latitude to latitude and from season to season. Because day and night lengths in the tropics approximate twelve hours each all year round, photoperiodic variations are small to non-existent. In the mid-temperate regions, photoperiodic spans can vary from up to nine hours in December to up to sixteen hours in June. In the present Arctic regions, photoperiodicity drops to zero in December, rising as high as twenty-four hours in June.
All this, however, would have been of very little, if any, importance during the Tertiary if Earth had basked under a continuous and universal sub-tropical climate and light regime as seems to be indicated by the evidence presented above. In the case at hand, the climatic requirements would have been close to identical the world over. Migrating plants would not have had to vacate any physiological niches; they would merely have radiated into new areas the climatic properties of which would have been near identical to the ones of their origin.
In the end, it is the available evidence that counts. Does the evidence support the theory of a Tertiary plant migration from the Arctic into more southerly latitudes?
In the Canadian Arctic, Mary Dawson discovered tapirs and flying lemurs which were closely associated in geologic context. But, further south, the tapir was found in a Middle Eocene context, while the flying lemur appeared in an Early Eocene stratum. Meanwhile, Leo Hickey, who had already spent twenty years studying Eocene flora, came to the conclusion that plants, together with marine invertebrates, had risen earlier in the Arctic than in the mid-latitudes. Ancestors of the horse, camel, rhinoceros, land tortoises, together with the flying lemur, and such trees as the Mexican elm, walnut, and the redwood, originated millions of years earlier in the polar regions.
“Dawson and Hickey in the early 1980s co-authored a paper in Science where they argued that certain plants show up in the fossil record 18 million years earlier in the Arctic than elsewhere while some animals evolved 2 to 4 million years ahead of their time north of the Arctic Circle.”
Yet if the entire Earth basked in a sub-tropical climate during the Tertiary period, to which the Eocene epoch belongs, how could this have been so?
This is precisely where the north celestial placement of the proto-Saturnian sun comes into its own. Thus, in addition to a universal climatic regime which would have warmed Earth throughout all its latitudes, proto-Saturn’s northern positioning would have ensured that Earth’s Arctic regions would have been slightly warmer earlier than the rest of the globe. In other words, Earth’s sub-tropical climate would have itself advanced slowly from the polar regions to the more southerly latitudes, with flora and fauna advancing along with the climate—just as the geological and palaeontological evidence seems to call for.
It thus seems that the Saturnian sun was already stationed above Earth’s north pole from at least as far back as the Eocene Epoch of the Tertiary Period of the Cenozoic Era which is dated by geologist to c. 58 million years ago. And even if this time span would have to be drastically shortened, as it probably will have to be, sometime in the future, it remains evident that the situation we have described would have to have prevailed from long before the advent of man.
THE CARETAKER OF THE WORLD
What must, however, also be stressed is that, when man finally arrived on the terrestrial scene, the situation remained much the same, as mythic themes unambiguously maintain.
Thus, much later in time, the Papago Indians of North America who, together with the rest of humanity, were not yet on Earth during the ages I have been discussing, continued to believe in a time when the “sun” was closer to Earth. As recorded in one of their tales, told in 1883: “The sun was much nearer the earth then, so that it was always pleasantly warm.” Of seasons there were none. “There was no winter and no freezing cold.” It was only later, say these Indians, that the “sun” was pushed “farther away from the earth” and then winter, snow, ice, and hail appeared.
In a “sun” that was “nearer the earth” we again recognize the Saturnian brown dwarf star which shed its light and warmth from Earth’s north celestial pole.
So, likewise, with the Zuni who maintain that winter came much later when the “sun” escaped, rose into the sky, and drifted away. Had this been our present Sun, where could it have been before that? Can we not see that the Zuni have retained a memory of that time when Earth had basked beneath the light and warmth delivered by a different sun than our present one? Does this not tally with our conviction that winter came upon the world when our previous Saturnian sun “drifted away” as the present Sun pulled Earth away from its former primary?
It was no different among the Sioux who, as recently as 1981, were still preaching that the four seasons had not pre-existed but were bestowed as a boon at a later time.
What is also instructive is that man continued to hold the north responsible for the eventual arrival of the seasons. The “sun” of Creation, so claim the Sioux, appointed the north to be “the caretaker of this earth.” More than that, at a time when “the sun did not move yet, did not rise and did not go down,” when it “just stood in one place,” the Creator “made the four seasons for the north to take care of…”