Microbial habitability of the Hadean Earth during the late heavy bombardment.

University of Colorado, Department of Geological Sciences, 2200 Colorado Avenue, UCB 399, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0399, USA.
Nature (Impact Factor: 42.35). 06/2009; 459(7245):419-22. DOI: 10.1038/nature08015
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Lunar rocks and impact melts, lunar and asteroidal meteorites, and an ancient martian meteorite record thermal metamorphic events with ages that group around and/or do not exceed 3.9 Gyr. That such a diverse suite of solar system materials share this feature is interpreted to be the result of a post-primary-accretion cataclysmic spike in the number of impacts commonly referred to as the late heavy bombardment (LHB). Despite its obvious significance to the preservation of crust and the survivability of an emergent biosphere, the thermal effects of this bombardment on the young Earth remain poorly constrained. Here we report numerical models constructed to probe the degree of thermal metamorphism in the crust in the effort to recreate the effect of the LHB on the Earth as a whole; outputs were used to assess habitable volumes of crust for a possible near-surface and subsurface primordial microbial biosphere. Our analysis shows that there is no plausible situation in which the habitable zone was fully sterilized on Earth, at least since the termination of primary accretion of the planets and the postulated impact origin of the Moon. Our results explain the root location of hyperthermophilic bacteria in the phylogenetic tree for 16S small-subunit ribosomal RNA, and bode well for the persistence of microbial biospheres even on planetary bodies strongly reworked by impacts.

  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Despite the success in knowledge gained by the Mars missions in the last two decades, the search for traces of life on Mars is still in progress. The reconstruction of (paleo-) environments on Mars have seen a dramatic increase, in particular with regard to the potentially habitable conditions, and it is now possible to recognize a significant role to subaerial hydrothermal processes. For this reason, and because the conditions of the primordial Earth—when these extreme environments had to be common—probably resembled Mars during its most suitable time to host life, research on terrestrial extreme hydrothermal habitats may assist in understanding how to recognize life on Mars. A number of geological and environmental reasons, and logistics opportunities, make the geothermal field of El Tatio, in the Chilean Andes an ideal location to study.
    12/2014; 5:430-443. DOI:10.3390/challe5020430
  • Source
    Treatise on Geochemistry, Volume 6: The Atmosphere – History, Second Edition edited by James Farquhar, 01/2014: chapter 5: pages 139-155; Elsevier., ISBN: 978-0-08-098300-4
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Given the global dearth of Hadean (>4 Ga) rocks , 4.4-4.0 Ga detrital zircons from Jack Hills, Narryer Gneiss Complex (Yilgarn Craton, Western Australia) constitute our best archive of early terrestrial materials. Previous Lu-Hf investigations of these zircons suggested that felsic (low Lu/Hf) crust formation began by ∼4.4-4.5 Ga and continued for several hundred million years with evidence of the least radiogenic Hf component persisting until at least ∼4 Ga. However, evidence for the involvement of Hadean materials in later crustal evolution is sparse, and even in the detrital Jack Hills zircon population, the most unradiogenic, ancient isotopic signals have not been definitively identified in the younger (<3.9 Ga) rock and zircon record. Here we show Lu-Hf data from <4 Ga Jack Hills detrital zircons that document a significant and previously unknown transition in Yilgarn Craton crustal evolution between 3.9 and 3.7 Ga. The zircon source region evolved largely by internal reworking through the period 4.0 to 3.8 Ga, and the most ancient and unradiogenic components of the crust are mostly missing from the record after ∼4 Ga. New juvenile additions to the crust at ca. 3.9-3.8 Ga are accompanied by the disappearance of unradiogenic crust ca. 3.9-3.7 Ga. Additionally, this period is also characterized by a restricted range of δ18O after 3.8 Ga and a shift in several zircon trace element characteristics ca. 3.9-3.6 Ga. The simultaneous loss of ancient crust accompanied by juvenile crust addition can be explained by a mechanism similar to subduction, which effects both processes on modern Earth. The oxygen isotope and trace element information, although less sensitive to tectonic setting, also supports a transition in zircon formation environment in this period.
    Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 12/2014; 146. DOI:10.1016/j.gca.2014.09.028 · 4.25 Impact Factor

Full-text (2 Sources)

Available from
Jun 3, 2014