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Volcano – Ice Interaction as a Microbial Habitat on Earth and Mars

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Claire Rachel Cousins, Ian Crawford

Abstract

Volcano-ice interaction has been a widespread geological process on Earth that continues to occur to the present day. The interaction between volcanic activity and ice can generate substantial quantities of liquid water, together with steep thermal and geochemical gradients typical of hydrothermal systems. Environments available for microbial colonization within glaciovolcanic systems are wide-ranging and include the basaltic lava edifice, subglacial caldera meltwater lakes, glacier caves, and subsurface hydrothermal systems. There is widespread evidence of putative volcano-ice interaction on Mars throughout its history and at a range of latitudes. Therefore, it is possible that life on Mars may have exploited these habitats, much in the same way as has been observed on Earth. The sedimentary and mineralogical deposits resulting from volcano-ice interaction have the potential to preserve evidence of any indigenous microbial populations. These include jökulhlaup (subglacial outflow) sedimentary deposits, hydrothermal mineral deposits, basaltic lava flows, and subglacial lacustrine deposits. Here, we briefly review the evidence for volcano-ice interactions on Mars and discuss the geomicrobiology of volcano-ice habitats on Earth. In addition, we explore the potential for the detection of these environments on Mars and any biosignatures these deposits may contain.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-710
JournalAstrobiology
Volume11
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011

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