Archean Environment: the habitat of early life

Home Network Activities Funding Picture gallery Contact


Steering Committee details


Nicholas Arndt (chair)

I am interested in the physical and chemical environment at the surface of the Earth from the time of the formation of the planet to the end of the Archean. My approach has bee to use the petrological and geochemical characteristics of Archean volcanic rocks, komatiites in particular, to help understand ho w they formed and what they tell us about conditions in the Archean mantle. In parallel with earlier work on the origin of continental crust, I aim to provide some constraints on the nature of the surface of the Earth during the Archean - the amount of emergent land and its composition (granitoid or mafic-ultramafic), the nature of the oceanic crust and conditions on the ocean floor. Information about the circulation of seawater through the crust will be obtained through studies of the alteration of volcanic rocks in greenstone belts. I am also part of a group at the University of Grenoble undertaking experimental studies directed at improving our understanding of the processes that led to the emergence of life.


Nicholas Arndt.

Ricardo Amils

[details here]



Michael Bau

Home page
My main interest is the evolution of biogeochemical element cycles throughout Earth’s history. I study the geochemistry of recent natural waters and their precipitates and the processes that control the partitioning of trace elements and their isotopes between the dissolved and the solid phase in the modern natural system. It is then tested whether or not the results from such studies can be applied to Early Precambrian chemical and clastic sedimentary rocks, such as banded iron-formations (BIF), carbonates, cherts and shales, in order to learn more about the composition of Early Earth’s surface system. My special interest is devoted to the rare earth elements (REE) which constitute a unique group of trace elements, that is an extremely useful tool, particularly in low-temperature aqueous geochemistry.




Dr. Pentti Hölttä
I work as a senior research scientist at the Geological Survey of Finland in Espoo where I have been since 1984. Apart from it I am a docent of petrology at the University of Helsinki where I teach metamorphic petrology to undergraduate students. My main research interest has been in metamorphic evolution of the Paleoproterozoic and Archean rocks of the Fennoscandian shield, where I have tried to integrate petrological studies with structural and geochronological data. During the last few years my research has been emphasized on the genesis of the Archean TTG rocks and on the Archean tectonic processes in general.



Professor Euan Nisbet

Euan Nisbet studies the early Earth, working both on the development of
the continents and mantle, and also on the habitat and evolution of life
in the Archaean (prior to 2.5 billion years ago). Currently his
geological work focuses on the interaction between early geology and
biochemistry, seeking to understand the history of the air as a
biological construction. He also studies the modern and glacial
atmosphere, focussing on methane, and leads the Greenhouse Gas Activity
in the European Union's GEOmon global atmospheric monitoring program.
He was educated at the Univ. of Zimbabwe and Cambridge, and is a
Distinguished Fellow of the Geological Association of Canada.

Minik Rosing

[details here]



Fons Stams

My area of expertise is Anaerobic Microbial Physiology. I am head of the Microbial Physiology group of the Laboratory of Microbiology at Wageningen University . Our research focuses on the (eco) physiology of anaerobic microorganisms in natural and man-made environments. The aim of the research is to get insight into the metabolic pathways employed by single bacteria and in particular mixed microbi­al communities to transform organic and inorganic compounds. This know­ledge is essential to understand the behavior of natural and xenobiotic compounds in the environment and to optimize environmental biotechnological processes.

Within the ESF programme Archeal Life we are studying:

  • Anaerobic biotransformation of (toxic) one carbon compounds, like carbonmonoxide, hydrogencyanide and methanethiol

  • Anaerobic oxidation of methane in low and high- temeparture environments

  • Methane formation and sulfate reduction in halo- alkalophilic environments

  • Biotic and abiotic oxygen formation in the deep sub-surface


Fons Stams.

Crisogno Vasconcelos

Cris Vasconcelos is a Senior Research Scientist and Head of Geomicrobiology Laboratory at the Geological Institute, ETH- Zürich. His current research aims to understand the mechanisms controlling microbial mediated mineral precipitation under aerobic and anaerobic conditions. Recently, he is investigating the incorporation of a range of elements, such as Sr, Fe and Mn, into the carbonate crystal in order to decipher possible geochemical signals for different metabolic pathways.   To understand the evolution of life, he is cultivating dolomite-forming stromatolites from Lagoa Vermelha, Rio de Janerio, Brazil. As dolomite is notably abundant in the Precambrian, these microbiolites are special because they may represent one of the most ancient biologic associations involved in carbonate precipitation.


Crisogno Vasconcelos.

Martin Whitehouse

[details here]



Tanja Zegers

My research can be summarized as comparative planetology, focused on the observational evidence for geological processes.

Earth being our home and best studied planet, I have devoted a considerable part of my research to the study of the Archean Earth, in particular the Pilbara and Kaapvaal terrains. How did continental crust form in the Archean ? Was plate tectonics a constant factor on Earth or did the Earth start off with a different type of geodynamic process ? How did large meteorite impacts influence these processes ? These are questions that I like to address by a combination of field studies, structural analysis, geochronology, and paleomagnetic techniques.

From recent planetary missions we now have a set of remote sensing and in situ observations that allow geological studies of Mars, Venus, and the Moon. This makes it possible to compare geological processes across planets. Currently I focus on combined stereo imaging and hyperspectral data of Mars to unravel the geological evolution of selected terrains. The question of habitability has recently become an important issue in comparative planetology: Why did life evolve on Earth ? Do, or did other planets in our solar system (or beyond) support life ? To explore for life on other planets than Earth we need a much better understanding for the conditions under which life formed on Earth.


Tanya Zegers.

Ellen Degott-v.W.Rekowski

Ellen is the ESF administrative representative on the programme steering committee.