20-EPN2-046: Investigating molecular and isotopic fingerprints of life on Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) cryo-ecosystems with astrobiological interest for icy worlds.
Visit by Laura Sánchez-García, Centro de Astrobiología (INTA-CSIC), Madrid, Spain, to TA1.4 AU Greenland Kangerlussuaq Field Site (Greenland).
Dates of visit: 19-25 July 2021
Glacial systems are interesting for studying habitability and limits of life. They are extreme environments where indigenous microorganisms may survive prolonged exposure to sub-zero temperatures and background radiation for geological timescales. Glaciers and the surrounding cryo-environments (permafrost, glacial lakes, or melting streams) arise as relevant scenarios for studying the development of functional microbial cryo-ecosystems and may have implications in the search for past or extant life in icy worlds beyond the Earth. In the Solar System, Europa and Enceladus have been recognized as the icy worlds with highest likelihood to harbor life, largely because liquid water could be in contact with rocks. Both satellites are believed to contain a global ocean of salty water under a rigid icy crust that would provide the scenario for an interaction between briny water and rocks, and the conditions for life to arise.
The permanent Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) represents a possible analog of such icy worlds, constituting an important long-term repository of psychrophilic microorganisms. Around the GrIS, different formations such as glacial lakes, permafrost, or further peat soils represent diverse degree of succession upon the influence of the GrIS and its thermal destabilisation.
We propose investigating molecular and isotopic lipid biomarkers of microorganisms inhabiting different cryo-ecosystems at and around the GrIS to obtain clues of a potential life development on analogous extraterrestrial cold environments (ice sheet), and learning how ecosystems evolves (biological succession) when the ice cover retreats and gets exposed to the atmosphere (glacier-melting streams, bedrock-erosion sediments, lake sediments, glacial soils).
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