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Analog Studies: November 2008


Scientists from the NAI Ames Team have teamed with rangers from Lassen Volcanic National Park to create the Lassen Astrobiology Internship Program. Ten high school sophomores from the rural areas around the park will hike - and later on in the year, snowshoe - to three locations within the Park several times throughout the 2008-09 school year, collecting water samples and other data at various locations. The samples will be analyzed, and the data provided to researchers on the NAI Ames Team to increase their knowledge about the microbial populations in the diverse hydrothermal areas and extreme environments within the Park.

Jennifer Eigenbrode: Ice is a cryogenic vault for preserving organics and other materials that may record planetary processes. On Earth, cold temperatures retard against hydrolysis and oxidation, which degrade biomolecules and other organics, allowing traces of life to persist in the presence of impurities. We are exploring the dilute biological and organic inventory contained within modern glacial ice on Earth in order to understand the habitat of microorganisms in near-surface glacial ice and to distinguish allochthonous from autochthonous organic records.

Damhnait Gleeson: Borup Fiord Pass, located on the Canadian Arctic Island of Ellesmere, represents the only known site on Earth where sulfur minerals and glacial ice are found in intimate association. Spring waters access the surface of the ice during the melt season each year, depositing elemental sulfur, gypsum and calcite and exsolving H2S. The sulfur signature of the spring deposits is extensive enough to be detected and monitored from orbital satellite observations and an autonomous onboard classifier can provide temporal coverage of spring activity. Diverse microbial communities are active within the deposits and are mediating the geochemistry of the deposits by the sulfur redox transformations from which they gain energy. Cultivation experiments targeting sulfide-oxidizing members of the microbial community have isolated microorganisms from the spring deposits which are producing biomineralized sulfur structures in culture.