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Pumice as cradle of life? Get real, says guy who’s been there

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Valley of 10,000 Smokes scene/Erin McKittrick

There’ve been a lot of stories lately about pumice as a sort of “cradle of life.” Most people know this volcanic rock product principally as the stone soap some people buy for the bathroom. David Shormann, who has considerable experience of pumice, kindly writes to say,

I wonder if these gentlemen have ever been to The Valley of 10,000 Smokes [Alaska], site of the biggest volcanic eruption in over 100 years. Here you can walk for miles and miles over pumice-covered ground, where very little life is supported.

One of the most oligotrophic (non-life supporting) lakes I have ever seen, Dakavak Lake, has shorelines made of pumice dozens of feet deep. Everywhere around TVTTS that is not pumice-covered is a celebration of creation, with bountiful salmon, grizzly bears, berry-filled fields and taiga forest. TVTTS is a spectacular testimony that pumice is not a life-supporting substrate. Here’s a link to a pdf of a presentation I did recently if anyone wants to see the “pumice covered dead zone” surrounding Novarupta and Mount Katmai.

Fair enough, Dr. Shormann, but origin of life theories are a cultural obsession, and they are not held to the same standard as actual science. Just imagine how few of them would even exist if they were!

An origin of life story in the pop science press could take the sudden disappearance of Mt. Katmai’s peak into a crater lake and say, there, you see! Proto-life in the lava would have had access to water! More evidence for Lava Life!

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