Emergence of Life in Ocean World Hydrothermal Systems

Laura M Barge, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States
Water-rock interaction and associated hydrothermal systems are significant for understanding how life emerges and sustains on wet rocky planets. Though we know that hydrothermal systems can provide habitable niches for extant life, it is also crucial to determine whether, and to what extent, vent / seafloor systems can also drive prebiotic chemistry to initiate a biosphere in the first place, especially on worlds with a global ocean where land-based prebiotic processes are not possible. Hydrothermal vents and their associated chimneys / sediments can promote a variety of important prebiotic chemical processes in an early Earth context. However, the utility of seafloor environments for emergence of life on other worlds strongly depends on the ocean / vent / rock chemistry of the system, which may have important differences from terrestrial examples. By exploring ocean worlds with future missions, and learning more about ocean and core composition and redox conditions, we can attempt to extrapolate to what geochemical parameters on other planets could drive life’s emergence.