Vlada Stamenkovic, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, California Institute of Technology

SCOL Project: Life From Inside Out: Connecting Geodynamics to the Origins of Life

All life we know occupies mostly the surface, oceans, and shallow crust of our planet – not reaching more than a few kilometers into the planet’s interior.

However, this inhabited environment is only a small part of our whole planet. The planet interior from rocky crust and mantle to the metallic core is the largest heat and nutrient reservoir that life can access. Tectonic forces and heat transport deep within the planet control what kind of nutrients reach the surface and what kind of nutrients are being removed from our atmosphere and oceans.

Therefore, the planet interior does significantly impact the origins of life and moreover all biogeochemical processes that determine the habitability of Earth and any rocky planet in our solar system and beyond.

In this proposal, I suggest to explore “Life from inside out”, or in other words the geodynamical connections to the origins of life. To achieve this goal, we must fully connect the interior evolution of planets with biogeochemical cycles occurring in oceans and on land. To get closer to this goal, the best approach is to 1) start exploring the geodynamically driven emergence of hydrogen, a first nutrient for life, as well as 2) to determine the potential of a geodynamic regulation of the atmospheric oxygen concentration, an element necessary for the emergence of complex life.

The oxygen and the hydrogen cycles are the key to explore the connections between planet interiors and the origins of life because oxygen and hydrogen significantly affect interior dynamics.

Answering both questions will allow us to explore the geodynamical drivers for the origin of life, to start uniting geodynamics with biogeochemistry, and to unveil whether or not Earth is a rare oasis for life in the Galaxy.

Education: University of Muenster, Ph.D., Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
Institution: California Institute of Technology (laboratories of Woodward W. Fischer and Joseph Kirschvink)

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