Project 599 - The Changing Early Earth

©IGCP-SIDA 599

For two billions years after its formation at ca. 4.6 Ga, the early Earth was very different from the Earth we know today. During this period, which includes the Hadean and Archean Eras, the Earth changed drastically. The differentiated continents grew from a more primitive crust and the atmosphere and oceans evolved towards the modern, oxidized compositions. Gold, iron and other ores were deposited in greater volumes than at any other time in Earth’s history. The identification and linking of the mechanisms that transformed the restless hotter, reducing early Earth with ambiguous tectonics and simple microbial life to a cooler planet with large, rigid plates and more complex life to a balanced planet sustaining life is one of the most significant challenges in the Earth Sciences and a key to understanding our future on this planet. The early evolution of the interacting system of continents, oceans, atmosphere and biosphere is stored in the rock records of Archean cratons, the stable parts of continents that formed 3.9-2.5 billion years ago. Fragments of Archean cratons are dispersed in all present continents around the world. Thus the only way to study the early Earth as a whole is by a global interdisciplinary collaboration through joint multidisciplinary activities, electronic networking, and efficient information management. This project aims to create standards for data reporting and to compile geochemical, geochronological and geophysical information on the Archean cratons into a global database. This database will provide a free access archive for present and future researchers to track, correlate and model the changes reflected in the rock records from craton to craton.

A growing group of committed researchers (84 at this initial stage) from different disciplines, institutions and continents but with complimentary expertise will focus on resolving the cause-and-effect relationships of changes in continental growth and Earth’s surface environments that provided the prerequisites for life and its early habitats. We will add a global and interdisciplinary perspective to previous research by integrating worldwide real data analyses and numerical geodynamic modeling tools. The currently active research of developing countries (South Africa, Cameroon, Tanzania, Brazil, India, China, and Russia) on the Archean cratons will play a crucial role in this project. Especially, we aim to strengthen cooperation with researchers working on Archean cratons in India, South America, China and Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Cameroon, Congo, Burkina Faso, and Madagascar).

This project will develop a global database of the Archean rock records from individual cratons for the scientific community, and will produce international papers and books, and a map series on the world’s Archean cratons.  We will generate a comprehensive multidisciplinary knowledge based on the history of our home planet through popular publications and exhibitions for the general public, produced in collaboration with Natural History museums and educational institutes. This research will benefit society by disseminating knowledge regarding the cause-and-effect relationships of the feedback mechanisms that balanced early Earth conditions to our modern environments. In the long term, we anticipate that our results will help in predicting future long-time changes to planet Earth for sustainable human living conditions and evaluating the effects of climate change. In the short-term, we expect to promote conservation and sustainable use of the unique and non-renewable mineral resources, oceans and atmosphere by media appearances.


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