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Astrobiology

Astrobiology is the understanding how biologically relevant elements might be distributed in a landscape that had extinct or very cold adapted, slow-growing extant found on the surface of Mars.Our work as geobiologists in Svalbard supports the testing of instruments that are destined to be fly on missions to Mars (e.g., CheMin and SAM, Mars Science Laboratory in 2009).

Understanding how biologically-relevant elements might be distributed in a landscape that had extinct or very cold adapted, slow-growing extant found on the surface of Mars. Our work as geobiologists in Svalbard supports the testing of instruments that are destined to be fly on missions to Mars (e.g., CheMin and SAM, Mars Science Laboratory in 2009). Although living organisms inhabit almost the entire surface of Earth, the extreme cold and dryness make Arctic regions reasonable analogues for the extreme environments on other planets. In Svalbard, our field areas include volcanic settings where biologically produced carbon intermingles with a source of mantle-derived carbon formed at great depths and temperatures in the deep earth. Associated with these volcanic mountains are a series of thermal springs with microbial inhabitants that thrive on sources of underground carbon dioxide and other nutrients. Plants, microbes, and lichens growing in Svalbard have an unusually wide range in isotopic compositions, a range rarely measured in temperate ecosystems. The ecosystem in soils and rocks is strongly influenced by the presence or absence of terrestrial herbivores or marine avifauna.  Because of the extreme conditions in Arctic regions, the lateral extent and distribution of marine-derived nitrogen could be measured on a landscape scale. Because of extreme cold, slow biological rates and nitrogen cycling, a mosaic of Nand C patterns develops on the landscape scale. This unique environment coupled to the interdisciplinary nature of the scientific team (AMASE: Artic Mars Analogue Svalbard Expedition) is important for both NASA’s current and future missions, and global ecology of our Earth.

  • Please go to AMASE for more information on the Svalbard expedition.