How do we understand the life and environment lying deep below the surface?

CIFAR's Global Call for Ideas invited applicants from all over the world to propose an important research question they want to address. We chose 12 finalists, and will announce the final selection in May. Find out more about this finalist.

When we think about the Earth we tend to think only about the surface. But below the surface are vast stores of water, and in that water teams microbial, fungal and viral life. Studying this subsurface realm could give us access to new water supplies, and also teach us about life on our own planet and other planets as well.

Earth 4D – Subsurface Science and Exploration will examine the nature of the earth’s subsurface, from groundwater to the evolution of life on this planet and other ones. Shifting plate tectonics have made it difficult for researchers to learn about the history of Earth’s subsurface activity. But Mars has experienced no such impediment. Its historical experience holds the potential to inform us about Earth’s terrestrial evolution.

The program’s name refers to its ambitious objective – to explore the Earth not only in relation to water, space and land, but timescale as well. This team proposes a global view of these processes, rather than examining the Earth through a single aquifer, mine or sedimentary basin.


  •   Barbara Sherwood Lollar is a professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto.
  John Mustard is a professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Studies at Brown University.

Find out more about the other short-listed Global Call proposals