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Quantifying Habitability as Organism/Environment Energy Balance

Presenter: Tori Hoehler, NASA Ames Research Center
When: December 2, 2008 2:30PM PST

The presence or absence of liquid water provides a useful first screen for habitability but, as presently applied in consideration of life on other worlds, its resolving power is roughly binary ? “possibly” or “probably not”. Among a variety of additional constraints on habitability, energy is both universally required by life and also potentially capable of significantly greater than “binary” resolving power. For life on Earth, energy availability not only places boundary conditions on habitability, but also underlies more than a billion-fold variation in volume-normalized biomass across otherwise comparable ecosystems. I will describe: (i) a conceptual framework designed to capture this resolving power by casting habitability as a balance between biological energy demand and environmental energy availability; (ii) a quantitative application of the energy balance approach to examine the habitability of serpentinizing systems with respect to methanogens; (iii) a potential application of this approach for quantifying the habitability of ancient Martian environments.

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