Thermochronologic perspectives on the deep-time evolution of the deep biosphere

Henrik Drake, Peter W. Reiners

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The Earth's deep biosphere hosts some of its most ancient chemolithotrophic lineages. The history of habitation in this environment is thus of interest for understanding the origin and evolution of life. The oldest rocks on Earth, formed about 4 billion years ago, are in continental cratons that have experienced complex histories due to burial and exhumation. Isolated fracture-hosted fluids in these cratons may have residence times older than a billion years, but understanding the history of their microbial communities requires assessing the evolution of habitable conditions. Here, we present a thermochronological perspective on the habitability of Precambrian cratons through time. We show that rocks now in the upper few kilometers of cratons have been uninhabitable (>∼122 °C) for most of their lifetime or have experienced hightemperature episodes, such that the longest record of habitability does not stretch much beyond a billion years. In several cratons, habitable conditions date back only 50 to 300 million years, in agreement with dated biosignatures. The thermochronologic approach outlined here provides context for prospecting and interpreting the little-explored geologic record of the deep biosphere of Earth's cratons, when and where microbial communities may have thrived, and candidate areas for the oldest records of chemolithotrophic microbes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2109609118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 9 2021


  • Deep biosphere
  • Deep time
  • Evolution
  • Extremophiles
  • Thermochronology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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