What Astrobiology Tells Us About The Anthropocene

Thursday, April 5, 2018 - 4:00pm
Phillips Auditorium
University of Rochester

In this talk I present new results exploring how questions related to developing a sustainable human civilization can be cast in terms of astrobiology. We begin by presenting a classification scheme for planets based on the degree of chemical disequilibrium generated by the coupled planetary systems.  In this context we discuss the role of biospheric feedbacks in the presence of a global energy-harvesting species. We explore how Earth System Science frames the thermodynamics of successful species and their interaction with biospheres including those species that develop energy-intensive civilizations. We then focus on the most import factor for sustainability in an astrobiological context: the mean lifetime L of an ensemble of species with energy-intensive technology. We cast the problem into the language of dynamical system theory and discuss how astrobiological results usefully inform the creation of dynamical equations, their constraints and initial conditions. We present solutions to an initial set of equations showing different trajectories of development of the couple civilization-planetary system. Finally we use Kepler data to set an empirical limit on the probability that we are the only time in cosmic history that an energy intensive technological species has evolved.

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