EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Bio-geodynamics of the Earth: State of the art and future directions

Taras Gerya1, Robert Stern2, Loic Pellissier3, and Dominic Stemmler1
Taras Gerya et al.
  • 1Department of Earth Sciences, ETH-Zurich, Switzerland (
  • 2Geosciences Department, University of Texas at Dallas, USA
  • 3Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Geodynamic evolution of Earth’s mantle and lithosphere is inextricably linked to the evolution of its atmosphere, oceans, landscape and life (e.g., Stern, 2016; Pellissier et al., 2017; Zaffos et al., 2017; Zerkle. 2018). In this context, modern-style plate tectonics that was established gradually through geological time (e.g., Gerya, 2019) is often viewed as a strong promoter of biological evolution (e.g., Pellissier et al., 2017; Zerkle, 2018; Stern, 2016). The influences of this global tectono-magmatic style are at least twofold (e.g., Zerkle, 2018; Stern, 2016). 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 (Zerkle, 2018); plate tectonics is very effective for this recycling. Second, plate tectonics is an unparalleled agent for redistributing continents and oceans, growing mountain ranges, and forming land bridges, and provides continuous but moderate environmental pressures that isolate and stimulate populations to adapt and evolve (Stern, 2016). Importantly, modern-style plate tectonics itself exerts continuous moderate environmental pressures that drive evolution and stimulate populations to adapt and evolve without being capable of extinguishing all life (Stern 2016). The power of plate tectonics for both nutrient recycling and paleogeographic rededistributions  suggests that a planet with oceans, continents, and modern-style plate tectonics maximizes opportunities for speciation and natural selection, whereas a similar planet without plate tectonics provides fewer such opportunities (Stern, 2016).  The evolution of life must intimately reflect Earth’s tectonic evolution.

It is important to also point out that timescales of biological evolution of complex life estimated on the basis of the analysis of phylogenies and/or fossils are rather long and comparable to geodynamic timescales (e.g., Alroy, 2008; Marshall, 2017). This timescale similarity creates an opportunity for investigating lithospheric and mantle processes with life evolution by developing and testing novel hybrid bio-geodynamical numerical models. These are currently emerging. Here, we review state of the art for understanding the complex relationship between lithospheric dynamics and life evolution and present some recent examples of numerical modeling studies investigating Earth’s bio-geodynamic evolution.


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Stern, R.J. (2016) Is plate tectonics needed to evolve technological species on exoplanets? Geoscience Frontiers, 7, 573-580.

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How to cite: Gerya, T., Stern, R., Pellissier, L., and Stemmler, D.: Bio-geodynamics of the Earth: State of the art and future directions, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-10657,, 2020


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