We’re excited to announce our theme for 2020 – the Year of Life! Throughout the year we’ll be exploring life in a geoscience context through research conferences, lectures, education programme and other Society activities.
There is an enormous amount of overlap between geoscience and life – here’s a look at just a few of those areas.
While scientists have placed the age of the Earth at approximately 4.54 billion years old, evidence of early life dates back to somewhere between 3.5-3.7 billion years. Evidence for early life is captured in some of the oldest rocks on Earth. The oldest signs of life to date are found in a rock formation in Greenland in the form of fossilised microbial activity. Rocks and the evidence of early life they contain are therefore critical to our understanding of the evolution of life on Earth.
NASA’s Mars Rover, Curiosity, has been exploring Mars for the last 6 years, investigating Mars’s surface and looking for potential signs of life on the red planet. So far, Curiosity has found a variety of organic molecules in the surface rocks of Mars which could be related to an ancient form of life. It’s very difficult to know at this stagebut it can’t be ruled that they were created biologically!
In 2020, both the European Space Agency and NASA will be launching Mars landers as part of the ExoMars and 2020 Mars Rover missions respectively both with the aim of looking for potential life on Mars.
Sea floor black smokers
Black smokers are hydrothermal vents that form on the deep ocean floor. They are formed near spreading zones, such as the Mid-Atlantic ridge, when seawater percolates down below the surface and gets heated by the surrounding hot rocks. This water then rises back to the surface and emerges through vents where streams of hot water (up to 370 degrees celsius!), laden with collected particles and materials, surge out of the vent giving the impression of black smoke. These hot fluids are full of minerals captured under the sea floor which are deposited to form ‘chimneys’ around the vent.
We now know that, despite the harsh environment, these areas are teeming with life and that many of the organisms that live there are unique to these environments. Research now suggests that life may have begun at at vents like these, or at slightly cooler white smokers, billions of years ago.
Once the stuff of science fiction, during the past few decades research into life deep within the Earth has revealed extraordinary ecosystems existing miles beneath the surface of the Earth. These astonishingly resilient organisms not only reveal new information about the ecosystems beneath our feet, but also have the potential to help with the search for life on other planets. Earlier this month, the Deep Carbon Observatory announced the latest results of their ongoing study of life underground, revealing the combined size of the Earth’s subsurface biosphere could be more than 2bn cubic kilometres.
These are just a few of the ways that geoscience and the study and understanding of life coincide and we will be investigating and celebrating these areas of overlap throughout 2020. Events throughout the year will involve researchers, industry, economists and government bodies, as well as partner geoscience societies and organisations.
We welcome proposals for meetings, events and other activities. To propose an event, or for more information, contact David Riach at David.Riach@geolsoc.org.uk.
Themed Years are at the heart of the Geological Society’s science strategy. We’re currently coming to the end of 2018’s Year of Resources – find out more about what’s taken place on our website.
2019 will be the Year of Carbon – and there’s still time to get involved! Visit our website for more information….