Unusual microbes living deep under the permafrost at one of Earth’s coldest and saltiest water springs could deliver a blueprint for life on Mars.
At Lost Hammer Spring, which prevails above the Arctic Circle in Nunavut, Canada, briny water bubbles up through 2,000 feet of permafrost. The water consists of salinity of approximately 24%, and the salt serves as antifreeze to allow the water to stay liquid even at subzero temperatures. However, the lack of free oxygen, almost less than 1 part per million, makes the conditions there clearly alien.
Indeed, the cold, salty and oxygen-free environment makes Lost Hammer Spring one of Earth’s closest analogs to Mars, with extensive salt deposits left by ancient water. However, some researchers have asserted that changes identified in gullies and dark streaks on the slopes of crater walls could have occurred from briny water welling up from underground, identical to the spring at Lost Hammer, although many scientists favor dry avalanches as maybe a more likely explanation.
Although microbes have been found in Mars-like conditions on Earth before, this is one of the first research to find these “extremophiles” active in such a hostile environment.
“It took a couple of years of working with the sediment before we were able to successfully detect active microbial communities,” Elisse Magnuson said in a statement. Elise is a doctoral student at McGill University in Montreal and the lead author of a new study describing the findings.