2003 Annual Science Report

Carnegie Institution of Washington Reporting  |  JUL 2002 – JUN 2003

Executive Summary

The team led by the Carnegie Institution of Washington is studying the physical, chemical, and biological evolution of hydrothermal systems, including vent complexes associated with ocean ridges, deep aquifers, and other subsurface aqueous environments, both on Earth and on other Solar System and extrasolar bodies. Such diverse systems are important environments for life on Earth and possibly elsewhere in the cosmos.

The traditional view of life’s origin on Earth has focused on processes near the photic zone at the ocean-atmosphere interface, where ionizing radiation provides energy for prebiotic organic synthesis. In the context of astrobiology, this origin paradigm restricts the initial “habitable zone” around stars to planets and moons with surface water. According to this view, subsequent adaptations on Earth, and possibly elsewhere, led to expansion of the biosphere into subsurface habitats.

An alternative hypothesis is that life-forming processes may also occur in subsurface hydrothermal ...

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