Permafrost on Mars and Earth

Editor's note: I got my question in during the Phoenix telecon about permafrost, ice, microhabitats, endolithic organisms, and how Phoenix is digging its trenches. In essence, I inquired about how the trenches were being analyzed in terms of the layers that might represent different freeze/thaw layers where small potentially habitable niches (for albeit putative Martian life forms) might exist.

Having dug and drilled holes down to permafrost myself on Devon Island (where Peter Smith has also visited) I recalled looking at the walls of holes I had dug in the thawed soil and seeing differences in how the rock grains were arranged as you moved down from the surface to the actual ice layer.

On Earth there are organisms called endoliths that can actually live inside of rocks and tap the solar energy that manages to penetrate the rocks. I asked if the team was guided by potential habitats wherein water in liquid form might persist. Smith et al replied that there was a Biological Potential Theme Group within their team and that these things were very much on their minds. Right now they have the prime aspects of the mission to work through (surface, top of the ice layer) but that some layering (up to 4 layers) has indeed been seen in the walls of the trenches - and that some suggestions include the possibility that these layers could be places where salts have been left behind as water evaporated.

Keith Cowing's Devon Island Journal - 28 July 2002 Drilling into permafrost
Terrestrial Lithophytic Communities - Battleship Promontory, Alatna Valley, McMurdo Dry Valleys Antarctica
Bright Chunks at NASA Phoenix Lander's Mars Site Must Have Been Ice

Live news audio feed

NASA and the University of Arizona, Tucson, will hold a media teleconference to report on the latest developments concerning the bright material discovered in the Martian soil by the Phoenix Mars Lander. Briefing participants:

- Peter Smith, principal investigator, University of Arizona, Tuscon
- Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on June 20, 2008 2:17 PM.

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