Biospherics Literacy 101

(Five PowerPoints / Five Days)

There are five PowerPoints in this
open-courseware collection

This presentation is a courtesy of

The Wecskaop Project

It is entirely free for non-commercial use by scientists,

students, and educators anywhere in the world

What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet
Copyright 2011, The Wecskaop Project.
All rights reserved.

Is our planet fragile or robust?

If we were a little
closer to the sun, our
water would exist
primarily in its
gaseous state

The Pacific Ocean alone, for
example, covers more of the
earth's surface than all of our
land masses combined

In addition, water covers 60% of the
northern hemisphere and approximately
80% of the southern hemisphere

International Oceanographic Foundation (1977)

Furthermore, if we were to use all Earth's mountains
and land masses to fill in the deepest parts of the sea,
we would end up with no land at all

Instead, Earth would be covered
with a layer of water 2.5 kilometers deep

In addition to these immense reservoirs of water,
Earth also has hidden reservoirs of water

Its atmosphere is filled with clouds, rain,
water vapor, fog, and humidity

Our farms and cities rely
on dwindling
underground aquifers
containing fossil water
that fell as rain
thousands of years ago

Lettuce and celery are good diet foods because
they are composed mostly of water.

And even the cells,
tissues, and bodies of
living things constitute
rich reservoirs of water

Living cells, for example, are
up to 98% salt water

International Oceanographic Foundation (1977)

In these respects, then, we can think of
the Earth as an "Unlikely Planet”

In one way, therefore,
the numbers cited so
far
underscore an
abundance of water

In reality, however, this seeming enormity and
abundance is simply an illusion

Because as living organisms, each of us is so tiny
compared to the size of our planet

that Earth's oceans only seem large if they are compared to our
own diminutive body size

After International Oceanographic Foundation (1977)

If we assess Earth's oceans, however, as simply a surface feature
of our planet, an entirely different perspective emerges

Mathematically speaking, 99.94% of our planet
consists of its crust, mantle, and its molten interior

After International Oceanographic Foundation (1977)

The thin layer of water that we refer to as an ocean
exists only as an inexpressibly thin and precarious surface film
that is only 6/100 ths of 1% as thick as the Earth itself

See close of Part One
For supporting mathematics

approximately
12/1000 ths of one inch deep

to correctly depict the proportional
depth of the earth's oceans

After International Oceanographic Foundation (1977)

To proportionally illustrate such a
depth to scale on a classroom globe,
we would need a thin film of water

the film it leaves behind
would be too deep

to properly characterize the depth of
earth's oceans

After International Oceanographic Foundation (1977)

If we were to wipe a wet paper towel
across a twenty-inch globe

Thus viewed from a planetary perspective, our oceans
exist as a thin and precarious surface film with greater
vulnerability than we might intuitively suppose

Thus, the seeming immensity of our oceans is
actually an illusion

for we have seen that, in planetary terms, our oceans are THIN
surface films that are just 6/100ths of 1% as thick as the earth itself

After International Oceanographic Foundation (1977)

Supporting mathematics

See appendix two for further
review of
supporting mathematics

Part Two

Earth‟s Atmosphere
as another thin and fragile surface film

It turns out that our ocean of air, Earth's atmosphere,
can be viewed in a similar way

Part Two - Like the Skin of an Onion

If we analyze the
proportional depth of
Earth's atmosphere,
we find that Earth‟s
“ocean” of air
is also little more than
another thin and
fragile film

Astronauts and cosmonauts,
while taking photographs from
space, have likened Earth’s
atmosphere
to a single layer of skin
on an onion

And this onion-skin-thin surface film of
air may exhibit far greater vulnerability
than we commonly imagine

Seen from this perspective,
our collective individual impacts
could contribute seriously to
potentially-calamitous outcomes

The fact that Earth‟s atmosphere
and oceans are razor-thin surface films
requires us to consider the
implications of our
current worldwide levels
of pollution, disruption,
and environmental damage

Part Three
What outbreaks of
dinoflagellate „red-tide‟
in marine environments may
tell us about ourselves

In the ocean, one-celled
dinoflagellates such as Karenia
brevis release small amounts of toxin
into their surroundings

During such outbreaks of “red-tide,”
a one-liter water sample can
contain 1,000,000 or more
dinoflagellate cells per liter

One of the most striking
characteristics of „red-tide‟ outbreaks
is that, taken together, all one
million dinoflagellate cells per
liter in a red-tide outbreak
physically-occupy less than
2/1000 ths of 1%
of the one-liter sample
in which they reside

See appendix one
for supporting mathematics

What the white dot in this image
shows most dramatically
is one of Earth‟s classical realworld examples of populationenvironment calamities

What the white dot in this image
shows most dramatically
is one of Earth‟s classical realworld examples of populationenvironment calamities
that routinely take place
in environments that visually
appear to be
ALMOST

entirely

EMPTY

In addition, dinoflagellate red-tides
are one of nature’s quintessential
examples of calamities
that arise from population explosions
accompanied by the release of wastes

Dinoflagellate red-tide calamities,
however, arise from their release of
cellular and metabolic wastes
into their surroundings

Because our own species also releases
wastes into its surroundings,
we may be following a trajectory
that is provocatively similar to that of
an outbreak of dinoflagellate red-tide

Except, of course, our own species
supplements
its biological and cellular wastes
with a daily worldwide avalanche of
industrial and societal wastes

So that, from at least one point of
view, we may actually be on a
trajectory that is considerably worse
than that of the dinoflagellates
and multiple orders of
magnitude worse at that

for each dinoflagellate cell
releases ONLY its
metabolic and biological
wastes into its surroundings

See appendix one
for supporting mathematics

Part Four
No Other Animals Do This

(or have EVER done this)

“vast amounts of open space”

may be well on its way, via an ongoing release of an
assortment of industrial and societal wastes,
to a significant alteration of
the entire gaseous environment in which we live

Not to mention the catastrophic PHYSICAL damage
that we inflict everywhere else

It is provocative to consider that today our
own species, surrounded by a seemingly
enormous atmosphere and seemingly

As a test of this last observation, envision an
individual animal of any species other than our own

In virtually all of these cases, the organism‟s
daily pollution of its environment is limited
to its daily production of its bodily wastes

Photos courtesy of life.nbii.gove‟ fox = Mosesso; Others - Hermann

All of the organisms below, for example,
limit themselves
the
Continuing,
however, to
envision
release of their biological, cellular,
and
metabolic
this
same
human wastes
being in an
automobile, backed up in
crowded traffic on a busy eightlane highway

All around in every direction are
hundreds of other cars and trucks
and buses, each spewing exhaust
from an internal combustion
engine

This indicates that each of us as
individuals are contributing
much more than our body wastes
to our surroundings

Photos courtesy of life.nbii.gove‟ fox = Mosesso; Others - Hermann

Continuing, however, envision
this same human being in an
automobile, backed up in
Incrowded
virtuallytraffic
all of on
these
cases,
each
a busy
eightorganism‟s
daily pollution of its
lane
highway
environment is limited to daily
production of its bodily wastes
All around in every direction are
hundreds of other cars and trucks
and buses, each spewing exhaust
from an internal combustion
engine

This indicates that each of us as
individuals are contributing
much more than our body wastes
to our surroundings

Next, however, envision an ordinary human
being living in an industrialized country

One‟s daily body wastes are
again a factor, of course,
but humanity‟s collective
biological wastes are natural
productions that have, in a
planetary sense, little impact
on global systems

Continuing, however, envision this same human being in an automobile,
backed up in crowded traffic on a busy eight-lane highway. All around in
every direction are hundreds of other cars and trucks and buses, each
spewing exhaust from an internal combustion engine.

This indicates that each of
us as individuals are
contributing much more
than our body wastes to
our surroundings

And we repeat this behavior every day - again and again and again –
in Beijing, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Tokyo, Cairo, Karachi, Jakarta,
Paris, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, and New York City

releasing more multiple millions of tons of waste, without fail, relentlessly
into the onion-skin-thin layer of air that makes up Earth‟s atmosphere

“Imagine you are driving your car and every mile you drive you throw a
pound of trash out your window.
And everyone else on the freeway in their cars and trucks are doing the
exact same thing, and people driving Hummers are throwing two bags out
at a time – one out the driver-side window and one out the passenger-side
window.
How would you feel? Not so good. Well, that is exactly what we are
doing; you just can‟t see it.
Only what we are throwing out is a pound of CO2 – that‟s what goes into
the atmosphere, on average, every mile we drive”
Chemist Nate Lewis
As quoted by Friedman, 2008
- HOT, FLAT, AND CROWDED -

If world population did not grow at all, all
of these impacts would likely double

as the world‟s poorest
nations industrialize
and seek to emulate our
own standard of living

We are the only animals on
Earth that do this

and we are not even
at home or at work yet

Now we switch on:
 our heating or air-conditioning units
 run a dishwasher and clothes drier
 run our lawnmowers and weed-trimmers



our refrigerators
freezers
street lights
fluorescent lights




toaster-ovens
microwaves
hair-dryers
steel mills




shopping malls
motor-boats
televisions,
computers
and
 hot-water heaters

For further information, see our book Wecskaop III
and/or other PowerPoints and PDFs in this series

And we still have
not included
all the wastes
generated by

 unwanted catalogue mailings
 tons of disposable, throw-away containers
and all the items

 that we ship halfway around the world

Every day, from all of those tailpipes on each and every bumper-tobumper interstate, boulevard, and highway, we spew molecules of
carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide and other noxious fumes

We are the only animals on earth
that do this,
and we do so during each
and every rush hour,
on every grocery run,
on every holiday trip to visit family,
and during every postal delivery

And then we repeat these same
activities every day,
again and again and again

without fail, relentlessly
and endlessly,

into the onion-skin-thin
layer of air that constitutes earth‟s atmosphere
so that our power plants, on our behalf,
release still more tons of wastes and fumes

Notice also that these additional wastes do not constitute a
„once-in-a-lifetime‟ contribution by each of us

day after day after day,
throughout our lives
We are the ONLY animals on
Earth that do this

How can we imagine that endless billions of us can endlessly
behave in this way without calamitous repercussions?
If we intend to enjoy such extravagance,
our populations must be smaller

For further information, see our book Wecskaop III
and/or other PowerPoints and PDFs in this series

Instead, we repeat these assaults
again and again and again,

Elephant photo courtesy of Thomas Hermann; life.nbii.gov

No other animal species
supplements its cellular and
biological wastes with a
planet-wide avalanche of
industrial and societal wastes
the way that we do
No other animal species in
the history of
the Earth has
EVER
supplemented
its biological wastes
in this way

We are the only animals on Earth
that have EVER done this

No other organisms in the history of the Earth
have ever supplemented their cellular and
biological wastes the way that we do

And no population explosions of red-tide dinoflagellates
(which poison their environments by the release of wastes)
have ever supplemented their cellular and biological wastes
with a daily avalanche of industrial and societal
wastes the way that we do

And these behaviors are NOT a minimal or incidental
footnote to the biology of our species

Instead, they are one of our most distinctive
and all-encompassing characteristics

Knowing that Earth‟s
atmosphere is not
responding to our assaults
very well right now,

consider that the U.N.‟s newest world population projections
show that we are nevertheless on-track to ADD at least
our 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th BILLIONS to our numbers by 2100

And their “high-fertility”
projections show us
reaching
15.8 BILLION
by century‟s end

Because three-quarters of the Earth's surface is
covered with lakes, rivers, oceans, seas, and ice,
it is both easy and descriptive to
picture our home as "a water planet“
so that we could easily call ourselves
"Planet Ocean“
(IOF, 1978; Anson, 1991, 1996, 2007)

On the other hand, if we consider Earth's oceans and
atmosphere as strictly surface features of our planet
an entirely different assessment presents itself

However, it is at least provocative to
consider that today our own species,
surrounded by a seemingly enormous
atmosphere and seemingly “vast amounts of
open space”

also appears to be well on its way, via an ongoing release of
an assortment of industrial and societal wastes,
to a significant alteration of the entire gaseous environment in which we live

(Not to mention the catastrophic physical
damage that we inflict everywhere else)

Review of Key Concepts

Review of Key Concepts
 Climb and collapse really happen
and we are not immune
 Collapse routinely occurs in environments that
can appear to be almost entirely empty
 Calamities can arise from wastes and damage
(as opposed to “running out” of things)
 Earth‟s atmosphere and seas as
onion-skin-thin surface films

 Dinoflagellate red-tides as quintessential examples
of population explosions that induce calamity by
the release of wastes
 A thin-film of water on a globe

 Collapse with 99% mortality is a biological reality
 We are not immune to collapse, and compared to
any other animals or dinoflagellates that have
ever lived, we are behaving comparatively badly
 By our release of wastes, we exhibit a behavioral
similarity with population explosions of red-tide
dinoflagellates
 We may well be on a trajectory that is far worse
than outbreaks of dinoflagellate red-tide because
we supplement our biological and metabolic
wastes with daily onslaughts of industrial and
societal wastes
 While outbreaks of dinoflagellate red-tide can
be categorized as localized events, the impacts
of our own species are global in nature

Review of Key Concepts
We are dangerously misled by our
prevailing “open-space” suppositions
for it is a misperception to presume that human population
growth and overpopulation cannot be truly serious so long
as “vast amounts of open space” remain
First, Earth‟s atmosphere and oceans
are onion-skin-thin surface films

And climb and collapse really do occur – and they do so
in environments that can appear almost entirely empty
When less than 2/1000ths of one percent of
seemingly-available “space” is occupied

In addition, the supposition
that “running out” of things
such as space, food,
resources, or anything else

are necessarily the first or only factors
that could threaten us
is an incomplete assessment of
our current condition

Review of Key Concepts

And we are the only animals that do
this, or that have ever done this
and are doing so on a worldwide
scale so that we are not a localized
phenomenon

And our behaviors in this respects are not a minimal or
incidental footnote to the biology of our species
but are instead one of our most distinguishing
and all-encompassing characteristics

Appendix 1

Supporting math – Red-tides

Supporting Math – Red-tides
Severe red-tide conditions are common when
Karenia brevis populations reach concentrations
ranging between 100,000 to 1,000,000 or more cells
per liter. Secondly, approximate dimensions of a
typical K. brevis cell:
(1) Volume of 1 liter = 61.024 cubic inches
(2) The approximate dimensions of a single cell of K.
brevis are:
L: ~30 um (= 0.03 mm) = ~ 0.0012 inches **
W: ~ 0.0014 inches
(“a little wider than it is long") *
D: ~ 10 – 15 um deep (10 um = .0004;
15 um = .0006), so average = ~ .0005 in
** Nierenberg, personal communication, 2008
** Floridamarine.org, 2008

Using the above:

inches remaining unoccupied. In other words, one
million dinoflagellate cells in a one-liter sample still
have approximately 61.023 16 cubic inches of
unoccupied volume that would appear to remain
theoretically-available to them.
Percentage Unoccupied

Therefore, the percentage unoccupied equals
(61.023 16) divided by (61.024 00) so that about
.999 987 2 or about 99.998 72% of the available
volume remains unoccupied.
This means that such a K. brevis population
manages to routinely visit calamity upon itself
and the environment in which it resides, even as
the cells themselves physically-occupy less than
2/1000ths of 1% of the total volume that appears
to remain seemingly-available.

Volume of a typical cell of K. brevis = (L) x (W) x (D)
= (.0012) x (.0014) x (.0005)
= ~ .000 000 000 840 cubic inches

Thus, (100%) – (99.998 72%) = .001 28 %,
or less than 2/1000ths of one percent of the volume
that appears to remain theoretically-available.

Thus one million Karenia brevis cells occupy
approximately (1,000,000) times (.000 000 000 840)
or a physical volume of about 0.000 84 cubic inches.

Thus, even though the K. brevis cells occupy a
volumetrically-insignificant portion of the "openspace" that visually appears to remain almost
entirely “empty,” they manage, by their combined
overpopulation and production of invisible and
calamitous wastes, to catastrophically-alter the
aqueous surroundings in which they live.

Recalling that one liter equals 61.024 cubic inches,
subtracting 00.000 84 occupied cubic inches leaves
(61.024) – (00.000 84) or about 61.023 16 cubic

Supporting Math
The image shown left depicts the physical amount of
space that constitutes two one-thousandths of one
percent. Note that the dot in the image denotes two
one-thousandths of one percent of the dark rectangle.

2/1000ths of
one percent

The step-by-step mathematics outlined below permits
preparation of a two-dimensional illustration like the
one shown here that visually depicts the proportional
amount of area occupied by two one-thousandths of
one percent.
(1) Use imaging software to open a rectangle 500
pixels high by 350 pixels wide = 175,000 square
pixels (Here: dark rectangle without frame)
(2) Thus, one percent of this area = (175,000) x (.01)
equals 1750 square pixels
(3) In addition, 1/1000ths of one percent = (1750)
times (.001) equals1.750 square pixels
(4) And two1000ths of one percent = (1750) x (.002)
equals 3.5 square pixels
(5) Calculating the square root of 3.5 square pixels
equals1.87 pixels, so that a square of (1.87
pixels) by (1.87 pixels) equals 3.5 square pixels

Real-world population calamities
in nearly “empty” environments

Thus beginning with a rectangle of 500 x 350 pixels,
a small square of 1.87 pixels by 1.87 pixels (length
times width) would visually depict a physical region
of two one-thousandths of one percent.

Supporting Math – Reindeer of St. Paul Island
Concerning V. B. Scheffer’s classic reindeer climband-collapse study on St. Paul Island, Alaska, our
estimate that the reindeer of St. Paul Island, Alaska
physically-occupied “less than 2/1000ths of 1%” of the
island’s total area at the time of collapse is derived as
follows.
L: Assume an average reindeer is approximately
44” long
(Female reindeer ~ 38” long; males ~ 46” long; .
so for our purposes, assume an average of 44”)

W: Assume that the width of an average reindeer
is approximately 24” wide
Girth will vary with time of year; food, pregnant . . .
females, etc., so for our purposes assume 24”

Thus the area physically-occupied by an average
member of the population would equal (44 inches)
x (24”) or approximately 1056 square inches each
Given a peak reindeer population of St. Paul island of
slightly more than 2000 animals, (2000) times (1056)
equals a combined area that is physically occupied by
reindeer bodies of approximately 2,112,000 square
inches (by the entire herd).
One square foot = (12) x (12) = 144 square inches,
so that 2,112,000 divided by 144 means that the

bodies of an entire herd of 2000 animals would
physically-occupy a total of 14,667 square feet.
If the area of St. Paul Island, Alaska is about 41
square miles, then if one square mile is equal to
27,878,400 square feet, then the total square
footage of the island would equal ( (27,878,400)
x (41) or approximately 1,143,014,400 square feet.
Next, we can subtract the14,667 square feet that are
physically-occupied by the entire herd from the total
square footage of the island so that (1,143,014,400)
minus (14,667) results in a total “unoccupied” square
footage of 1,142,999,733 square feet.
Lastly, dividing the island’s total unoccupied space
(1,142,999,733) by the total area of the island
(1,143,014,400) gives the percentage of total
unoccupied space at the time of the peak reindeer
population, which was 0.999 987 168. Notice then
that the collapse (and 99% die-off) of the St. Paul
Island reindeer population began at a time when
99.999% of the island’s total area appeared to
remain theoretically-available.
Notice, therefore, that the herd’s collapse and 99%
die-off both began (and proceeded to devastation)
in surroundings that visually appeared to be
almost entirely empty.

Supporting Math – Reindeer of St. Matthew Island
We can apply the same approach to D.R. Klein’s
classic reindeer climb-and-collapse study on St.
Matthew Island, Alaska (1968). Our estimate that
the reindeer of St. Matthew Island physically-occupied “less than 2/1000ths of 1%” of the island’s total
area at the time of collapse is derived as follows.
L: Assume an average reindeer is approximately
44” long
(Female reindeer ~ 38” long; males ~ 46” long; .
so for our purposes, assume an average of 44”)

W: Assume that the width of an average reindeer
is approximately 24” wide
Girth will vary with time of year; food, pregnant . . .
females, etc., so for our purposes assume 24”

Thus the area physically-occupied by an average
member of the population would equal (44 inches)
x (24”) or approximately 1056 square inches each
Given a peak reindeer population of St. Matthew island (1963) of slightly more than 6000 animals, (6000)
times (1056) equals a combined area that is physically occupied by reindeer bodies of approximately
6,336,000 square inches (by the entire herd).
One square foot = (12) x (12) = 144 square inches,
so that 6,336,000 divided by 144 means that the

bodies of an entire herd of 2000 animals would
physically-occupy a total of 44,000 square feet.
If the area of St. Matthew Island, Alaska is about
138 square miles, then if one square mile is equal to
27,878,400 square feet, then the total square footage of the island would equal ( (27,878,400) x (138)
or approximately 3,847,219,200 square feet.
Next, we subtract the 44,000 square feet that are
physically-occupied by the entire herd from the total
square footage of the island so that 3,847,219,200
minus (44,000) results in a total “unoccupied” square
footage of 3,847,175,200 square feet.
Lastly, dividing the island’s total unoccupied space
(3,847,175,200) by the total area of the island
(3,847,219,200) gives the percentage of total
unoccupied space at the time of the peak reindeer
population, which was 0.999 988 Notice then that
the collapse (and 99% die-off) of the St. Paul Island
reindeer population began at a time when 99.999%
of the island’s total area appeared , visually-speaking, to remain theoretically-available.
Notice, therefore, that the herd’s collapse and 99%
die-off both BEGAN (and proceeded to devastation)
in surroundings that visually appeared to be
almost entirely empty.

Appendix 2

Supporting math – Thin Films

Mathematics after a presentation outlined by the
International Oceanographic Foundation
Virginia Key, Florida

After International Oceanographic Foundation (1977)

Supporting math – Thin Films

After International Oceanographic Foundation (1977)

Here is the supporting mathematics:
(i)
Earth's oceans are, on average, approximately 3.6 km deep. If we
have 3.6 km of water on one side of our planet and another 3.6 km
on the opposite side, this represents an addition of 7.2 km added to
Earth's overall diameter.

(ii) Earth's overall diameter (including its molten
interior, rocky mantle, crustal plates, and covering
of oceans) is approximately 12,740 km.

(iii) Thus, without the 7.2 kilometers of ocean, the
Earth's diameter would be roughly 12,732.8 km.

(iv) This means that 12,732.8 km out of 12,740
km (99.94%) of Earth's diameter consists of its
molten interior, rocky mantle, and crustal
plates.

(v) Thus, the math shows that the average depth of
the oceans accounts for only six one-hundredths of
one percent of Earth's diameter – an inexpressibly
thin film indeed.
(12,732.8 divided by 12,740 = 0.9994)
and (100 minus 0.9994 = .0006)

(For a 50.8 cm model globe, .0006 times 50.8 cm
would equal oceans, so that the scale model would
require a layer of water that is 6/100ths of a cm
deep in order to represent the ocean's average
depths in proportionally correct terms.)
(50.8 times .0006 = .03)

This presentation is a courtesy of

The Wecskaop Project

It is entirely free for non-commercial use by scientists,

students, and educators anywhere in the world

What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet
Copyright 2011, The Wecskaop Project.
All rights reserved.

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