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Sioux Falls Scientists endorse Life's Rocky Start for
showing us how Earth's minerals and evolution
interacted to create the world we know today.

Life's Rocky Start
The Vital Link Between Minerals and the Evolution of Life

Life's Rocky Start (2016) - 60 minutes
Life's Rocky Start at Amazon.com

Four and a half billion years ago, the young Earth was a hellish place - a seething chaos of meteorite impacts, volcanoes belching noxious gases, and lightning flashing through a thin, torrid atmosphere. Then, in a process that has puzzled scientists for decades, life emerged. How did it happen? NOVA joins mineralogist Robert Hazen on the rocky trail to resolve this enduring mystery. As Hazen journeys around the globe - from an ancient Moroccan market to the Australian Outback - he advances a startling and counterintuitive idea - that the rocks beneath our feet were not only essential to jump-starting life, but then, as microbes flourished and took over the biosphere, life helped give birth to hundreds of minerals we know and depend on today. This intriguing perspective of the co-evolution of Earth and life is reshaping the grand-narrative of our planet's story. In this stunning adventure through billions of years of history, the story of life on Earth is revealed as fundamentally interwoven with the epic, unfolding story of Earth itself.

10-29-20 Earth’s tectonic plates may have sped up three times in its past
At three moments in the past, Earth’s geological activity picked up the pace. Its tectonic plates moved 30 to 50 per cent faster than normal, and there were bursts of volcanic activity and mountain building that helped create supercontinents. These three geological big bangs may have played an important role in the evolution of life on Earth. Kent Condie at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and his colleagues want to understand how Earth’s gigantic tectonic plates behaved in the past. In 2014, they suggested that the plates are moving faster now than they were a billion or so years ago. That conclusion came from a preliminary analysis of several types of data, including magnetic signals locked in ancient rock that give a sense of where on Earth’s surface the plates were at particular time point in the past – information that can help establish how fast the plates must have been moving at the time. Now, Condie and his colleagues have analysed more data. They say there is no longer a signal suggesting the plates have accelerated through time. But in its place is another, even more intriguing pattern. At three points in Earth’s distant past – 600, 1100 and 1850 million years ago – the tectonic plates sped up for a few tens of millions of years, so the global average speed was between 30 and 50 per cent faster than normal. At the same time, there were peaks in volcanic activity and mountain building, heralding the formation of supercontinents – Nuna at about 1850 million years, Rodinia some 1100 million years ago and the coalescence of landmasses some 600 million years ago that would lead to the formation of Pangaea. “Something dramatic was happening at those periods of time that was affecting all of these systems,” says Condie. “Something in the mantle.” The researchers think they are seeing evidence of a vast geological cycle that begins with the death of a supercontinent. As it breaks up, some slabs of Earth’s crust sink down into the mantle – the thick layer of hot rock between the crust and the core. Condie says the slabs take some 100 to 200 million years to drift down to the bottom reaches of the mantle. When they arrive there, the temperatures and pressures turn the former crust into a plume of abnormally hot rock, which gradually rises back to the surface.

6-13-18 The epic hunt for the place on Earth where life started
Darwin's warm little pond, the deep ocean and icy shores – all have been suggested as the birthplace of life. Now one location could have it all. NEARLY 4 billion years ago, the first life appeared on our planet. It would have looked unlike any life as we know it today, more basic even than bacterial cells – barely more than a few genetic molecules packaged up in some kind of a sac. Working out how this popped into existence is one of our greatest intellectual endeavours. And at the root of the problem is an epic hunt for the perfect location. Researchers studying the origins of life each have their favourite spot. Some sites offer the right molecular ingredients, others provide ready-made little containers to hold these early reactions. But is it possible that one special place had the perfect combination of all the conditions essential for the chemistry of life? And does a similar place still exist today, on Earth or elsewhere in the universe? Charles Darwin kicked off the quest. In a letter he wrote to the botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1871, he described a hypothetical warm little pond, rich in chemicals and salts, with sources of light, heat and electricity. He imagined that in such an environment, proteins might spontaneously form, ready to turn into something more complex. In the 1950s, chemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey managed to create Darwin’s pond in the lab. They mixed water with gases they thought would have been present on early Earth, and zapped them with simulated lightning. This produced amino acids, the building blocks of all proteins. Their experiment is one of the most famous of the last century, but we now know that what they created, protein components in water, is not enough to constitute life.

Life's Rocky Start
The Vital Link Between Minerals and the Evolution of Life

Sioux Falls Scientists endorse Life's Rocky Start for
showing us how Earth's minerals and evolution
interacted to create the world we know today.