A scientific expedition to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean has brought back some pretty interesting finds, which could have impacts on our understanding of the beginnings of life on Earth, the search for life on other planets, and even climate change. The goal of the mission was to learn more about how rocks from the Earth’s mantle (the layer below the crust) are brought up to the ocean’s floor where they interact with salt water. The team is currently studying the samples they brought back.
The cycle of those rocks coming the “surface” of the ocean floor brings hydrogen and methane, which some microbes can “eat” for energy. This is how the expedition might help us understand abiogenesis, or the beginning of life on Earth, as the region is completely devoid of sunlight, something which otherwise forms the backbone of the food web.
Because it’s so dark and because of the pressure and other factors that make life so difficult down there, studying these samples might lead us to some ideas about how life could develop on other planets in the universe. The search for extraterrestrial life often assumes that life would only develop on planets like Earth, but the world as we know it is very different than it was when life first began.
The team is also very interested in how carbon fits into the reaction between seawater and mantle rocks. That’s because a lot of carbon ends up in the ocean, too much at the moment, but throughout the planet’s life, the oceans have sequestered carbon. So, it stands to reason, this new data might provide us with previously unknown information about how carbon sequestration works, information which might help us design better techniques and develop better policies to handle the problem of global warming.