Use the Soda Lake proper and regional setting on the Carrizo Plain as an analog to ancient Mars mineralogy, organic-mineral relationships, and habitability.
The unique attributes of Soda Lake (salt chemistry, clay mineralogy, sedimentology, and ecology) and dune environment make it an excellent place to study processes that may be analogous to those on ancient Mars. Currently, I am engaged in the Mars Science Laboratory mission that will launch in 2012 and will explore the Mars surface for past and preset environments capable of supporting life. The rover, named Curiosity, carries an entire laboratory in its belly, which includes instruments for elemental, mineralogical, and organic molecular detection. Theses observations could include biosignatures, however such interpretations would critically depend on understanding the context of observations as well as their interpretive potential and limitations. Studies of Earth environments deemed analogs to Mars environments provide the basis for understanding observational context.
I propose to use the Soda Lake proper and regional setting on the Carrizo Plain as an analog to ancient Mars mineralogy, organic-mineral relationships, and habitability. As a preliminary step to this study, I propose to sample the sulfate-rich surface crust (two 8-oz samples) and subsurface (10-20 cm deep) sediments (two ~8-oz samples) as well as the surface and subsurface (10-20 cm deep) clay dune sediments (one sample each, 8-16 oz). These samples will be studied using methodology and instrumentation similar to those included on Curiosity (i.e. gas chromatography mass spectrometry, X-ray diffraction and fluorescence, and spectroscopy). Specifically, we will investigate the elemental and salt chemistry, mineralogy, organic composition, and the relationships among these attributes. We will supplement these observations with data from other instruments (e.g., spectroscopic, laser ablation techniques). Our primary goal is to understand data products for our flight instruments using natural samples. Our secondary goal is to understand the sedimentological and ecological record of Soda Lake as an analog for ancient Mars salt lakes. The results of our studies will be published in scientific journals, made available to the public through reports, and will be used to support current and future NASA Mars mission work. Lastly, as I have a long-standing interest in the climatic record of Soda Lake (see J. Eigenbrode, 1999, M.S. thesis, Indiana University), the results of the proposed study will hopefully feed into ongoing climatic studies.
The results of the study proposed here will likely be used as preliminary data in support of a larger Mars-analog research effort to be proposed to a NASA ROSES program.
Jennifer Eigenbrode, Ph.D.
Astrobiologist and Organic Biogeochemist
Code 699, Planetary Environments Laboratory
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD 20771