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Early life built Earth's continents

Rewind Earth's story 3 or 4 billion years, to when life was emerging. The surface of our planet was starting to cool but still piping hot – possibly about 200 °C. Early, unstable continents may have been forming. Now imagine life doesn't emerge, and press play.

This is what a new computer model allows us to do, offering the first glimpse of the role that life played in shaping the surface of our blue marble. The results paint a picture of a lifeless Earth as an unrecognisable water-world with very few continents, if any at all.

"It is the first time the biosphere has been taken into account when modelling the interior evolution of the Earth," says Tilman Spohn of the Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, Germany.

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