Subject: Expert Interrogations: collation of evidence
From: Alex Kemp
Date: Wednesday, 18 May 2011 09:33:24 +0100
To: Neil Turner Cc: David Bailey, Liisa Kemp, Davin Kemp, Moira Muir Bcc: Micaela Kemp

Hello Neil

This post consists of a collation of evidence towards my original assertion with Micaela:

When the planet first produced Trees, she forgot to produce something that could eat trees. Thus, lots & lots of dead trees piled up, and they eventually became the coal, oil & gas that humans mine today

That assertion was based on something that I read or heard long ago--probably on Radio 4!--but had forgotten the original source. Both yourself & David Bailey were most dubious about the basic assertion when I talked to each of you. For myself, it still seemed perfectly reasonable, and answered a great deal of the observed facts.

Therefore, in order to keep Saturday 28th “Expert Interrogation” on track, I thought that I should do some research to assemble the arguments to keep this fundamental assertion credible in your eyes. I shall copy this to David, purely for his interest, and of course to Micaela & family.

I am, of course, interested to hear of any incorrect facts in what follows.

We are talking of the time currently known to humans as the Carboniferous Period: in round figures, between 300 & 360 Million years ago. Quite recently in terms of the age of the planet! The surface of the earth was remarkably different to today: the supercontinent Pangaea was coming together, and lots of mountains were being created (see bottom).

According to wikipedia (!) the atmosphere was also remarkably different:

  1. Carbon Dioxide was *very* high: 3 times our pre-industrial level. It fell throughout the period, and rose after.
  2. Oxygen grew across the whole period, from equivalent to an astonishing 163% of the modern level, then fell catastrophically.
  3. Average temperature was the same as today. It started much hotter, and fell throughout to be much cooler.
    (see bottom)

The key new component at that time, where we are concerned, is: ‘Lignin’.

Today, in modern trees, lignin is a component of their compression-wood; up to 30% of the entire dry-weight is lignin. Trees at that time were very different to modern trees, and the amounts of lignin that they contained were proportionally far higher. The bark-to-wood proportion was much higher than modern trees, and lignin composed as much as 60% of the bark.

Lignin was not a brand-new item on the planet but, as far as I can tell, it was brand-new in terms of the quantity produced on land. One ancient fish is known that contained lignin within the inner cell-wall (I cannot re-find the name), and modern red-algae also utilise it. Perhaps the abysmal plains of the ocean contain vast quantities of ancient coal waiting to be mined from this source!

In our current age, lignin is still one of the most difficult substances for life to breakdown, which is one of the reasons that humans have used wood for building things, of course. The Basidiomycota family (mushrooms, yeasts, puffballs, smuts & rusts) are the main agents and, of these, auriculariales (so-called because they look like a human ear) are the specific family of saprotrophic (wood-eating) fungi. Just one of these, ‘Neolecta’ (the so-called fossil fungus, because it has not changed at all since it first emerged about 400 million years ago) (see bottom), is known to have been around when trees first emerged. All other fungi post-date those ancient trees.

So, putting all that together, what do we get?

One thing that is well known about green trees in our modern age is that they consume carbon dioxide (CO²) and give off oxygen (O²). The vast spread of trees was the great feature of that age. Further, not only did those trees eat CO², but they were promptly buried in the ground. I understand that some of the coal fields discovered are thousands of feet thick; that speaks of a perfectly astonishing accumulation of wood within one location, remembering that the ground above them has squashed them as flat as it can. The world-wide trend of falling CO² and rising O² throughout that 60 million years speaks of a vast sequestration of carbon within the earth.

Clearly, my original statement to Micaela was not wholly true: Neolecta would have emerged at about the same time as the original trees. However, it clearly was not up to the job!, and especially when that Carbon age really got into full swing. The later bugs would eventually have evolved but, clearly not for a great many million years. In the mean time, trees were Queen of the whole world, and the only way that this planet could deal with it all, as she does, was to bury them (or at least, the ones that the fires did not get).

This is the world during the Carbon era:


Neolecta (the fossil fungus)

Carbon Dioxide historically:

Carbon Dioxide historically

Oxygen levels historically:

Oxygen levels historically
Carboniferous Period (~300m years ago; the supercontinent Pangaea is coming together)
Alex Kemp