A 2014 NOVA documentary entitled, “Earth from Space” highlights the secrets being revealed by the 120 or so satellites which orbit the earth. For instance, there are satellites which track the sun’s effect upon the earth’s wind and ocean currents. Other satellites identify the forces that create massive blooms of phytoplankton which both produce most of the oxygen we breathe and feed trillions of sea creatures. And other satellites observe how the earth’s magnetic fields deflect the sun’s deadly solar wind and massive coronal eruptions. Above all, these high tech satellites are revealing how an intricately interwoven and balanced set of forces operate continuously to keep our planet a marvelously inhabitable place for humankind and all living things.
Far from being at the mercy of chaos, earth’s inhabitants are served by a spectacular arrangement of global processes which reveal God’s amazing care for us.
Take, for instance, how the ice of Antarctica helps feed and sustain all living things. Scientists have wondered for decades why the temperatures at the South Pole average 43 degrees (F) lower than at the North Pole. The reason, in part, is that both warm ocean and wind currents, which help warm the Arctic, are deflected by a 200-MPH Polar Jet Stream. This Polar Jet creates a perpetual clockwise storm which circles the Antarctic continent and creates the Antarctic Circumpolar Current of the Southern Ocean. Both these air and ocean currents isolate the Antarctic from the warm flows of water and wind from the Equator.
In turn, these dramatically colder temperatures of the Antarctic winter generate massive ice sheets around the continent, particularly in the Weddell Sea (200 billion tons of ice annually). As this ice forms, it forces salt from the ice crystals and creates enormous amounts of dense brine. This heavy brine sinks to the bottom of the Weddell Sea, then cascades off the continental shelf (one trillion tons every hour) into the deep abysses of the ocean rifts 12,000 feet down. This super-cold brine interacts with warmer ocean waters and forms the basis of global ocean circulation. The heavier and colder brine pushes the ocean bottom waters upward to the surface, bringing life-sustaining nutrients with them. This circulation also helps regulate the ocean and air temperatures, keeping the earth a hospitable place. Eventually, this heavier brine water itself returns to the surface and makes its way back to Antarctica where it continues the process.
But much of this brine sinks into the earth’s crust, finds its way into vast thermal chambers where it dissolves the rocks, and is released back into the ocean through thermal vents. When the brine is released back into the ocean it now carries with it nutrients from the rocks it dissolved. When these nutrients surge to the surface they support massive blooms of microscopic phytoplankton. These phytoplankton not only produce most of the oxygen we breathe. They also form the bottom of the food chain for trillions of fish, whales, waterfowl, and humans.
Other satellites have revealed how billions of tons of dead phytoplankton (called diatomite) are blown into the air from an ancient sea bed in the Bodele Depression in the Sahara. This diatomite is a rich source of phosphorus, an essential nutrient for plant life. Vast clouds (7,000 tons at any given moment) of this diatomite dust blows from the Sahara and continues on a 5,000 mile journey to the skies above the Amazon rain forests. There the phosphorus-rich dust mixes with rain and falls to the rainforests below. Scientists have discovered that, although the Amazon rainforests teams with life, their soils are badly depleted of phosphorous. Thus, the faithful wind currents serve to nurture the vast South American rainforests from dust a distant continent away.
Satellites have also uncovered the critical role which violent electrical storms play in nurturing the earth. Every day the earth is blasted with 1,800 electrical storms. Astronauts circling the earth are often amazed at the number, frequency, and intensity of the lightning strikes they generate – 40 every second! These individual bolts of lightning are no thicker than a human thumb, yet they generate temperatures of 50,000 degrees (F). How can something so deadly be beneficial to life on earth?
First, these lightning strikes provide something essential to the rejuvenation to the earth’s vast forests – fire. Scientists have long since abandoned the notion that wild fires are an evil and now see their value in ridding forests of diseased trees, clearing underbrush that prevents new growth, and even facilitating the release of seeds from conifers which depend on hot temperatures to open their cones. But fire also accelerates the process by which the nutrients of dead trees are returned to the soil so new growth can benefit from them.
Second, bolts of lightning also make the nitrogen of our atmosphere water-soluble. The heat of lightning bolts breaks up the nitrogen into individual atoms. These then tend to bond with oxygen atoms, forming nitrates. Rain carries these nitrates to the soil and fertilizes the plants it waters.
There are even satellites which monitor the earth’s magnetosphere. The rotation of the earth’s inner iron-nickel core generates a vast magnetic field which encompasses the earth. This magnetic field is invisible to us, yet life on earth would not be possible without it. Here’s why. Though we are all familiar with the sun’s life-giving properties, the sun is also a constant source of dangerous radioactive particles which hit us at almost one million MPH. This is what is referred to as the solar wind. Fortunately, the invisible magnetosphere deflects these dangerous particles away from us. Without the earth’s magnetic field our planet would be stripped of its atmosphere and eventually all liquid water.
However, there are also events on the sun’s surface called coronal mass ejections, which release the energy of 14 million atomic bombs and travel at millions of MPH. These gigantic bursts of energy overwhelm the earth’s outer magnetic field. Fortunately, the earth has a second line of defense, an inner and dynamic field which serves to channel these particles away from populated areas to the earth’s Polar Regions, where they generate spectacular Northern and Southern Lights.
These are only a few of the recent observations which satellites have made, observations which reveal the hundreds of complex global systems in place which protect, nurture, and feed the earth’s inhabitants. That these life-sustaining processes are so conspicuously absent on all other planets only serves to emphasize the earth’s privileged place in the universe. This also serves to prove how a loving and caring Creator is constantly at work to provide for us. Is it any wonder that Jesus turned to nature as an example of how our Heavenly Father loves and cares for us (Matthew 6:25-34)? The great rocket scientist and creator of the Saturn V, Dr. Werner von Braun, used to say, “The deeper we probe into space, the greater is my faith!” One glimpse at the care which God exercises to bless this planet and its inhabitants should relieve all our fears that He would ever abandon us. So trust in God’s love and faithfulness. The God who has so marvelously provided for our every need – without any effort or knowledge on our part – will not withhold any good thing we ask of Him.
PRAYER: Thank you, dear Father, for Your great faithfulness in caring for all living things upon this planet. Help me, therefore, to seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness, as You faithfully meet all of my needs. Amen.
(Information from NOVA documentary, “Earth from Space,” on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aU0GhTmZhrs)