The Search for a Signature of Life on Mars: A Biogeomorphological Approach

Author: Corenblit, Dov; Darrozes, Jose; Julien, Frederic; Otto, Thierry; Roussel, Erwan; Steiger, Johannes; Viles, Heather

Description: Geological evidence shows that life on Earth evolved in line with major concomitant changes in Earth surface processes and landforms. Biogeomorphological characteristics, especially those involving microorganisms, are potentially important facets of biosignatures on Mars and are generating increasing interest in astrobiology. Using Earth as an analog provides reasons to suspect that past or present life on Mars could have resulted in recognizable biogenic landforms. Here, we discuss the potential for, and limitations of, a biogeomorphological approach to identifying the subsets of landforms that are modulated or created through biological processes and thus present signatures of life on Mars. Subsets especially involving microorganisms that are potentially important facets of biosignatures on Mars are proposed: (i) weathering features, biocrusts, patinas, and varnishes; (ii) microbialites and microbially induced sedimentary structures (MISS); (iii) bioaccumulations of skeletal remains; (iv) degassing landforms; (v) cryoconites; (vi) self-organized patterns; (vii) unclassified non-analog landforms. We propose a biogeomorphological frequency histogram approach to identify anomalies/modulations in landform properties. Such detection of anomalies/modulations will help track a biotic origin and lead to the development of an integrative multiproxy and multiscale approach combining morphological, structural, textural, and geochemical expertise. This perspective can help guide the choice of investigation sites for future missions and the types and scales of observations to be made by orbiters and rovers.

Subject headings: Bacteria; Exobiology; Extraterrestrial Environment; Geologic Sediments; Mars; Methane; Models; Theoretical; Weather; Biogeomorphology; Landform shape; Landform structure; Landform texture; Life signatures on Mars; Microorganisms

Publication year: 2019

Journal or book title: Astrobiology

Volume: 19

Issue: 10

Pages: 1279-1291

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Serial number: 3242

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