Greenland from above, where the ice sheet is melting to form lakes and to expose rocks not visible for millennia. @Susan Oliver
It is my very good fortune to report that I have just arrived in Greenland for quite a scientific adventure.
Over the next days, a group of scientists (along with me and NASA videographer Mike Toillion) will be traveling to the site of the stromatolite that might, or might not, be the oldest remains of life on Earth. In a 2016 Nature paper, it was described as having been fossilized about 3.7 billion years ago.
Another Nature paper two years later challenged the biological origins of the “fossil,” and the debate has been pretty vigorous since.
Vigorously debated putative stromatolite from the Isua Peninsula, Greenland.
We’ll be helicoptering about 100 miles northeast of the capital Nuuk to get to the Isua peninsula, where the oldest (or almost the oldest, depending on who you choose to follow) rock formations on Earth can be found. Three days and two nights on the ice, or what we hope is still ice. And then a day or more of scientific debate.
I will be writing about this and more (some folks involved the Mars 2020 mission will also be testing instruments at the site) for Many Worlds in the days and weeks ahead.
To me this is an important story not only because of the possible age of the stromatolite find. If confirmed, it would move back the presence of identified life on Earth by 200 million years.
It is also important because of the fact that scientists with different views on this important issue have traveled thousands of miles to go to the site together and try to reach a consensus—or at least to vigorously argue their cases. Doesn’t often happen in such high profile science.
Greenstone Belt formations on the Isua Peninsula where our team will be headed.
Greenland has, of course, been in the news of late for reasons ranging worrisome purchase offers to far more worrisome warming. Remarkable are the “moulin” — which drain the water running on the ice sheet and send it down thousands of feet to the water or land below.
Kind of a ice black hole.
A “moulin” in Greenland that acts as a very deep drain for water melting on the ice sheet.
Now it’s in my news because, well, I’m here in Greenland, to learn, to report back, and to take in everything this spectacular place has to offer.
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