Slideshow presented to Mole Valley Geological Society. 5th December 2019
The slide show illustrates an imaginary journey starting at London Victoria Station during the formation of the Earth 4.6 billion years ago. We will catch a BR421 slam door train through Mitcham Junction to Dorking. From there we will walk up to the Cockerel Roundabout before heading down the High Street. We follow West street before turning off into the Follet Hall, Dorking where the talk was held.
(press the right hand arrows on the images to continue slide show)
It is hoped that the route shown is one that it is familiar to most of those attending the MVGS talk in Dorking. The total distance is about 25 miles which is being used to represent 4.6 billion years. It is a simple exercise to transfer the calculations over to any route you are familiar with in order to help get a better perspective of Deep Time.
Victoria Station. 0 miles. 4.6 bya.
We depart at Victoria as the debris of the universe smashes together to form massive lumps of gas and rock. Ours is the third lump from the sun. All aboard!
Leaving Victoria Station in the Hadeon. 4.5 bya
Huge lumps of rock are constantly falling from the sky. It's a dangerous time to be travelling by train. We have hardly left the station when a planet sized lump named Theia comes hurtling towards us.
Formation of the Moon. 4.5 bya + 2 secs.
The debris that is flung off in the massive collision forms up to become the Moon. I have adapted these images of Theia so that it is an ice giant… because... where did all that water come from?
Out of the Late Heavy Bombardment and into Clapham Junction. 3500 mya.
We leave behind the wreckage of Inner London and arrive at a time from which the earliest rocks can be dated. Rails at last! Even now there are signs of biotic life on the planet.
Purple Slime World. Near Streatham Vale. 3000 mya.
And what life? At first just seas of purple slime as simple organisms absorbed most of the spectrum to process sunlight and carbon dioxide into energy.
Green Slime World. Mitcham Junction. 2600 mya.
By the time we get to Mitcham Junction the slime has turned green as it evolved to photosynthesise using the tiny green part of the spectrum left vacant by the purple slimes. It uses water instead of carbon dioxide giving off oxygen as a by-product. This is poison to the purple slime and so most of it dies off. Just because there is a bit of Oxygen about I'm not sure passengers should go for a dip!
Rust World. Sutton Station. 2200mya.
By the time the train stops at Sutton Station the oxygen has affected the vast amounts of iron floating in the ocean and on the land so we enter into 'Rust World'. The iron oxidises and is being put down into the iron bands that provides us with the iron for our train. Better not stop here too long or the wheels will seize up. We squeak away down the line.
Fungi World. Ashstead. 1200mya.
The slime continues to thrive and as we get to Ashtead, Fungi has slithered onto land.
XXX marks the spot. Lower Ashtead. 1000mya.
Just beyond Lower Ashstead the train passes over the M25 and out of Greater London. We are almost at the top of the North Downs about to come into the Mole Valley. We have covered more than 2/3 of our journey and so far all life has existed without sex, but now that changes. It's all downhill from now on.
Ice World. Mickleham Tunnel. 750 mya.
We never actually get to the top of the North Downs. A tunnel after Leatherhead takes us through the chalk into the Mole Valley. As the train passes through the tunnel…. Brrr ! The temperatures plummet and we enter the greatest ice ages on earth. Again and again the planet freezes right over into either a 'Snowball Earth' or a 'Slushball Earth' depending on who you read... The Cryogenian Period.
The Cambrian Explosion. Mickleham Bends. 540 mya.
When the train leaves the tunnel things brighten up. We are in the Mole Valley travelling through the countryside alongside the River Mole. We see an explosion of life in the aftermath of the thaw. The Cambrian Explosion. What's that weird creature over there? It looks like a vacuum cleaner.. and that one with the spikes. Who knows which way up that is supposed to be? It was a time of trying everything.
Ordovician–Silurian extinction event. Mickleham. 450mya.
The first of the five biggest extinction events occurs. (There are really a lot more than five but for the sake of this journey we are only going to mention the biggest five. Wikipedia lists 26 of them if you include the Holocene extinction.. i.e. us) The planet has frozen again. Sea levels are very low. Maybe an exploding supernova has frazzled life on the planet with a super strong burst of Gamma radiation. Whatever happened 85% of marine species die out.
Devonian Seas. Mickleham. 400mya.
Things soon start to warm up and life flourishes again. We are now in the Devonian. Fish develop sturdy fins, which eventually evolve into limbs. The first coral reefs emerge. Fish, sharks and sea scorpions fill the seas.
Devonian Seas. Mickleham. 401mya.
Life on land becomes more complex as plants develop. Insects diversify and the first vertebrates walk on land.
The Late Devonian Extinction. BoxHill and Westhumble Station. 360 mya.
But then, just as we are pulling into BoxHill and Westhumble Station ...disaster! Another mass extinction event. The Late Devonian Extinction. Again, about 70% of all species become extinct although this time mostly marine organisms are affected. I have randomly explained this with a huge meteor strike onto a thin section of crust. Whatever the reason, it was another massive disturbance to life on Earth and we won't be alighting here.
Late Carboniferous. Borders of Denbies. 300mya.
We are now in the Late Carboniferous Period. Plants have developed root systems that have allowed them to grow larger and move inland. Forest environments have evolved and atmospheric oxygen has increased. Early reptiles have evolved, and giant insects abound like this huge dragonfly that has got in the window of the train!
Permian Extinction. Denbies. 252 mya.
...Another extinction event. This time it's very severe. I have shown it as the result of heavy metal poisoning of the seas because it is very boring and science is like that sometimes. It is the most severe extinction event the planet has ever seen and it very nearly wiped us all out. 96% of all marine species and 70% of land species.. just gone. ... Wave goodbye to the Trilobites and all those big insects. It took the planet 30million years to recover from this blow.
Triassic. Leaving Denbies. 210mya.
However, on our timescale recovery seems quick and as we see Denbies pass us into the distance we enter the Triassic. Small ancestors to birds, mammals, and dinosaurs have survived and are thriving. Herbivores are growing to a huge size to be able to digest the plant matter that is growing successfully. The first flies evolve.
Disaster at Dorking Station. Triassic–Jurassic Extinction Event. 201mya.
We have arrived at Dorking Station... but be careful getting off the train. You are about to encounter another mass extinction event. The Triassic - Jurassic Event. Bam! Another 75% of all species become extinct. Maybe there was an extra-terrestrial impact. Maybe acidification of the seas. Maybe it was all the greenhouse gasses from vocanic eruptions. Who knows? Most of the large amphibious reptiles were wiped out and the field has been left open for the dinosaurs to rule the world.
Dorking Station is a train wreck. Let's get out of here.
Jurassic. Cockerel Roundabout. 150mya.
As you leave the debris of the devastated station you will see you are in the Jurassic Period. By the time you get up to the Cockerel Roundabout the planet is very warm indeed. The ice caps have completely melted and sea levels are at their highest. Ocean life has diversified and there are some big scary dinosaurs about. Birds, early mammals, flowering plants and pine trees have just appeared for the first time.
Town Hall and Swimming Baths. Cretaceous Period. 100mya.
We turn right, down toward the High Street and we pass the Swimming Baths and the Theatre. The sand on which Dorking is situated was laid down at this time. We see the first bees emerge. Thomas Cubitt, our locally celebrated Master builder of 19th century London has caught one. Well done Sir!
KFC. Late Cretaceous. 68 mya.
The first ants make their appearance at the Kentucky Fried Chicken shop, but then, so does the first Tyrannosuarus Rex. Big hungry predators like this dominate the world up past the Tattooist and the Chip Shop right up to Pizza Express when we face another extinction event that finishes them. This time we have evidence of what occurred because there is a thin layer of iridium at the boundary. As just about everyone knows, this indicates the dinosaurs were wiped out by....
The Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.(K-T Cretaceous Tertiary)
...Aliens! 75% of species are wiped out yet again. Say goodbye to non avian-dinosaurs. All tetrapods over 25kg are wiped out.. that is... nothing bigger than a modern domestic dog will survive this extinction! Good news for birds and mammals. Some mammals take to the sea and become whales and dolphins.
Bird World. Tertiary Period. Post Office. 45mya
As we walk down the High Street towards the Post Office we are in the strange world of giant birds. The first penguins grow to enormous sizes. We see the first, owls, song birds, parrots, swifts and woodpeckers. Also, there are half tonne ostrich like flightless birds that can prey on the small horses of the era. As we continue towards St Martin's Walk, grasses appear for the first time and we see the emergence of bears and cats. Perhaps as a result the age of the giant birds mostly comes to an end except in Oceania, and particularly in New Zealand.
The Great American Interchange. William Mullins's House. 9.5mya.
In West Street we pass William Mullins's house. It is the only surviving house owned by a passenger on the Mayflower before they left for America in 1620. On our journey the land masses of North and South America have just collided and we see a interchange of American animals taking place. Elsewhere the first kangaroos have just evolved
The First Hominin. Entrance to United Reformed Church. 6.5mya.
As we approach the front gate of The United Reformed Church on West Street we see a strange character looming. Is it the Bishop come to take our confession? No.. it's the first Hominin. Another few steps and it starts to get very cold and the first mammoths appear. Not long after this we find modern elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, rhinoceros and gazelles. Blue whales have reached their present size.
First Homo. Outside door to Hall. 2mya.
Just outside the door, about 18m away, the first members of the genus Homo, Homo Habilis, appears here as do the first ancestors of cattle in India.
10ft away. First Neanderthals . 350ka.
About 10 ft away from here the first Neanderthals emerge. 10ft is about the length of an original Mini. During the talk I used the example of an attendee sitting 10ft away as representing Neanderthal for comic effect. Here I have put three modern interpretations of Neanderthals in a Mini. Hang on, I'm sure I know that lot from somewhere?
1.8m away. First Modern Humans. 50ka.
At around the distance equivalent to the height of a 21st century human, full modern Homo Sapiens emerged in Africa. It is said to be the most advanced yet to emerge from the genus Homo.
44cm away. First Homo Sapien out of Africa. 50ka.
At a distance of 44cm Homo Sapien emerged 'out of Africa'. I used a stick to illustrate 44cm during my talk. Here we can see two of our great leaders discussing how long 44cm is. One of them thinks he knows and wants to tell the world, but the other seems to have his own ideas
26 cm away. Extinction of Neanderthals. First domestic dogs. 30ka.
At about 26cm away Neanderthals became extinct and we were on our own. At about this time wild dogs first became domesticated. 30,000 years later, 26cm is about the height of a Chihuahua. If those wild dogs had been able to see what was in store for them they might have stayed in the woods instead of hanging round the camp fire.
44mm away . Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge built. 5ka.
At 44 mm away the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge were built. 44mm is about the length of a standard matchstick.
18mm away. Julius Ceasar attacks Britain. The Christian Year Zero.
When we get to 18mm away we are at the time recorded as being the occasion of the birth of Jesus. At around this distance Julius Ceasar is invading Britain. 18mm is about the height of a box of matches.
3.5mm - Thickness of Mayflower £2 coin. 400ya.
At a distance of 3.5mm in 1620 Dorking resident William Mullins, his family and the other passengers of the Mayflower arrived in North America to set up the Plymouth Colony. Within months he was dead, his wife was dead, his son was dead and his servant from Dorking, Robert Carter, was dead. Only his daughter Priscilla survived and now has many, many descendants. 3.5mm is a bit more than the thickness of a £2 coin. This one issued by the Royal Mint celebrates 400 years since that Dorking man's famous journey.
2.2mm. Start of the Industrial Revolution. 1760.
At 1.4mm, or the thickness of a £1 coin, the Spinning Jenny and the Steam Engine were invented and the Industrial Revolution got started. Industrialisation took off quickly in the UK, not in small part due to it's fortuitous Geology. The English Pound, the Spinning Jenny and the Steam Engine are all being set upon by some Luddites in this scene.
0.6mm Piece of Card. Start of the Anthropocene. 1945.
At 0.6 of a millimeter distance the first atom bomb was tested in Nevada marking the start of the 'Anthropocene'. 0.6mm is about the thickness of the card covering these pamphlets, including 'Protect and Survive' which the UK Government distributed when I was in my youth. It recommended an old fashioned form of self-isolation where you hid in your backroom under a door with some rubbish piled ontop and waited for your skin to fall off. How things have changed!
1/10mm. Thickness of a human hair. 13year old's life.
At this scale my whole life is equivilent to less than half a millimeter, but my children's lives are only the equivalent of a human hair or what is officially described as 1/10mm (although some humans have hair much thicker than others!). I always find it sobering to consider what my life adds up to and to transpose that onto another part of the route. Say by considering a piece of paper lying on the platform of Clapham Junction. It makes the notion of Deep Time dauntingly tangible.
I did specify a journey through Deep Space and Time so let us consider space very briefly. If we look over in one direction the furthest we can possibly see is 46 billion light years away. After that the universe is expanding so fast it is outrunning the light so we can't see any further. If you add the two opposing directions in which we can look that makes the universe at least 96 billion light years big. Very, very big in other words.
However, if we retrace our steps back to Dorking Station and we catch a train back up to Victoria we will find the space in the universe is shrinking as well as going backwards in time. If we carry on back from Victoria and get a tube to St. Pancras then jump on a high speed train heading out for Dover we will be travelling into an ever smaller and older universe.
Because the universe is now shrinking we will theoretically get to a point that everything that once spanned at least 96 billion light years now fits into an area that is the size of a marble. This appears to happens at Dover just before you go through Customs.
Beyond there, at 13.8 billion years ago, the Universe reduces into a Singularity and there is no more time or space into which to travel. There is simply nothing that exists beyond here. The ultimate Big Bang Brexit!
Which really is the end if the line.