The Gaia Hypothesis, Climate, and Ecosystems

Benjamin Lintner (Environmental Science)

Introduced by scientist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s, the Gaia Hypothesis proposes that organisms modify their environment in such a way to produce conditions more conducive to their existence.  The Gaia Hypothesis has evolved into various forms, some of which (“Earth as a single organism”) have inspired considerable controversy.  On the other hand, the scientific community has come to accept some tenets of Gaia.  In this seminar, we will consider Gaia through the lens of our current scientific understanding of interactions between ecosystems and climate.  Our discussions will focus on two geographic regions, the Amazon rainforest of South America and the Sahel/Sahara transition zone in West Africa, highlighting the key factors behind observed and simulated coupled climate-ecosystem variability and change in the past and present as well as in projections for the future.  We will also examine the colorful history of the Gaia Hypothesis and philosophical considerations about the nature of modern scientific thought, such as what constitutes “good science.”

Course Number: 
11:090:101 section 19 index 18103