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3. Interdisciplinarity and International Context


Lack of a common funded research program.

Understanding the formation of the Earth and its earliest history is an issue of wide interest, for the public as well as within the scientific community. Within the German Earth Science community, this topic has also been identified as a key research area in Chapter 5 of the DFG Strategieschrift “Zukunftsaufgaben der Geowissenschaften”. The proposed SPP would generate a research program within and beyond the Earth Sciences that will bring together scientists involved in early Earth research with scientists involved in studies on extraterrestrial materials. Each theme alone has received particular attention in the past, but generally in separate coordinated research programs. The search for habitable planets outside the solar system is a major endeavour in current astronomical research and associated space programs and has also received considerable attention in the public. However, these voluminous research programs are largely based on astronomical observations, physical approaches, modelling or studies with an entirely biological focus. Consequently, there is a strong need for a focused Earth Science approach that is the only way to reliably integrate direct observations from the available record stored in geological and extraterrestrial samples with models proposed by astrobiologists or astronomers. Within the proposed SPP, this task may be accomplished by jointly examining old rock samples from the Earth, the Moon and the asteroid belt that provide a suitable and accessible testing ground for the Earth Scientist.


The need for the first fully funded Earth Science based coordinated program.

Given these constraints, the key to understand Earth’s habitability is provided by Earth Sciences. Addressing these scientific issues from a wider angle requires a concerted interdisciplinary approach involving geologists, geochemists, cosmochemists, mineralogists, geophysicists, modellers and geobiologists. There are strong communities in each of these disciplines in Germany (see above), but the exchange between these communities - largely established as smaller university groups - needs to be improved. We consider an SPP as the ideal framework to foster interdisciplinary co-operations between these university-based scientists for addressing the central question how Earth became a habitable planet.


Relation to other national and international programs.

Numerous members of the proposed SPP have long-standing individual collaborations and have participated in established national and international networks. These include the IGCP SIDA 599 “The Changing Early Earth”, the ESF Network “Archean Environment”, and the ICDP drilling projects “FAR-DEEP” and “Peering into the Cradle of Life”. All of these programs do not provide direct project funding to German researchers. SPP 1385 “The first 10 Million Years” is limited to the earliest evolution of the solar system, explicitly excluding Earth’s growth, the key topic of this proposal. Furthermore, established individual cooperations provided participation in international field campaigns to all relevant areas with a rock record suitable for studying Earth’s early evolution. In addition, several groups involved in the SPP proposal have ongoing sample loan collaborations with NASA and Japanese NIPR, including lunar samples and Antarctic meteorites. All this confirms the high international recognition of our groups, but it is our aim to expand these collaborations to a higher level. There will also be a very close strategic collaboration with the Helmholz Institute for Ressource Technology, focusing on the genesis of Archean ore deposits, thus demonstrating the relevance of our proposal for resource-related issues.