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Astrobiology. 2015 Oct;15(10):922-39. doi: 10.1089/ast.2015.1302. Epub 2015 Oct 2.

Microbes, Mineral Evolution, and the Rise of Microcontinents-Origin and Coevolution of Life with Early Earth.

Author information

1
1 Department of Earth Science, University of Bergen , Bergen, Norway .
2
2 Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington , Washington, DC, USA .

Abstract

Earth is the most mineralogically diverse planet in our solar system, the direct consequence of a coevolving geosphere and biosphere. We consider the possibility that a microbial biosphere originated and thrived in the early Hadean-Archean Earth subseafloor environment, with fundamental consequences for the complex evolution and habitability of our planet. In this hypothesis paper, we explore possible venues for the origin of life and the direct consequences of microbially mediated, low-temperature hydrothermal alteration of the early oceanic lithosphere. We hypothesize that subsurface fluid-rock-microbe interactions resulted in more efficient hydration of the early oceanic crust, which in turn promoted bulk melting to produce the first evolved fragments of felsic crust. These evolved magmas most likely included sialic or tonalitic sheets, felsic volcaniclastics, and minor rhyolitic intrusions emplaced in an Iceland-type extensional setting as the earliest microcontinents. With the further development of proto-tectonic processes, these buoyant felsic crustal fragments formed the nucleus of intra-oceanic tonalite-trondhjemite-granitoid (TTG) island arcs. Thus microbes, by facilitating extensive hydrothermal alteration of the earliest oceanic crust through bioalteration, promoted mineral diversification and may have been early architects of surface environments and microcontinents on young Earth. We explore how the possible onset of subseafloor fluid-rock-microbe interactions on early Earth accelerated metavolcanic clay mineral formation, crustal melting, and subsequent metamorphic mineral evolution. We also consider environmental factors supporting this earliest step in geosphere-biosphere coevolution and the implications for habitability and mineral evolution on other rocky planets, such as Mars.

PMID:
26430911
DOI:
10.1089/ast.2015.1302
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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