Online-Geokolloquium: Montag 07.12.2020

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Biogeodynamics: toward quantifying the influence of plate tectonics on life evolution and biodiversity

  Vortragender: Prof. Taras Gerya

ETH Zurich

Earth’s geodynamic evolution is intimately coupled to the evolution of its atmosphere, oceans, landscape and life and we would like to understand this coupling better through the emerging transdisciplinary field of biogeodynamics. Firstly, life is sustained by a critical set of elements contained within rock, ocean and atmosphere reservoirs and cycled between Earth’s surface and interior via various tectonic, magmatic and surface processes. Second, plate tectonic processes such as redistributing continents, growing mountain ranges, forming land bridges, and opening and closing of oceans provide environmental pressures that isolate and stimulate populations to adapt and evolve; recombinations of these features further stimulates evolution. Modern-style plate tectonics established sometime before the Cambrian explosion is often viewed as a strong promoter of biological evolution. Compared to single lid tectonic styles, plate tectonics better supplies nutrients and modulates climate, and exerts continuous moderate environmental pressures that drive evolution without being capable of extinguishing all life.

Importantly, long timescales of biological evolution estimated from analysis of DNA changes and fossils are comparable to those of major geodynamic cycles such as the Wilson Cycle. Therefore, computational biogeodynamics (i.e., coupled modeling of Earth’s interior, climate, environment and life evolution) stands as one of the frontier research tasks in geodynamics, ecology and evolution as well as related disciplines. Here, we propose the development and employment of both regional- and global-scale 3D high-resolution bio-geodynamical modeling toolkits, coupling (i) available global and regional magmatic-thermomechanical models of geodynamic processes, (ii) simulations of long-term atmospheric and climate change and (iii) spatially-explicit models of species speciation, evolution and extinction. We show preliminary results suggesting critical roles of plate tectonic motions and mantle plume-lithosphere interactions on life evolution and spatial-temporal biodiversity distribution.