European Science Foundation

Archean Environment: the habitat of early life

Programme outline

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Summary

The aim of the programme is to coordinate and encourage research on the environment of the early Earth and on the manner in which life appeared and evolved. The main research topics are:

  1. Composition and temperature of Archean atmosphere and oceans;
  2. The nature of Archean landmasses;
  3. Interaction between Archean surface waters and the oceanic and continental crust;
  4. The search for traces of early life.

The main emphasis will be on the conditions at or near the surface of the Archean Earth: the approach will be based firmly on the earth sciences and will thus be distinguished from other complementary programmes in which the emphasis is on molecular biology and genetics. By focussing on the first two billion years of Earth history, our programme will also be distinguished from current exobiology programmes that focus mainly on life in modern extreme environments.

The programme will involve scientists and students from at least 20 different institutions in nine European countries, as listed in Table 1. These include university departments, government-sponsored research centres (e.g. CRPG in Nancy or IPGP in Paris ) and the Geology or Natural Science Museums in three different countries. This list is not exhaustive and we will welcome the participation of scientists from countries not in the list.

Most of the institutions are in the field of Earth Sciences but through the involvement of multidisciplinary institutions such as the Centre of Molecular Biophysics in Orleans or the Centro de Biología Molecular, Universidad Autónoma in Madrid , and our association with the European Space Agency, we will interact with scientists of other disciplines. We will also coordinate our activities with programmes in other major countries, and with international programmes in the field of Archean studies and geomicrobiology. The principal goal of the programme will be to coordinate the research of active European scientists and students on the environment of the Archean Earth. We will do this mainly by funding exchange visits between participating laboratories of scientists and upper-level research students, and by organising conferences, workshops and sessions and international congresses.

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