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Data from Nevada Tufa Mounds Could be Used to Better Understand Biosignatures on Earth and Beyond

August 16, 2021

California Water Science Center scientist, the late Dr. Michael R. Rosen, and others have authored an article characterizing biosignatures in porous rock formations (called "tufas") in Big Soda Lake, Nevada.

USGS research hydrologist Dr. Michael Rosen standing text to a tufa formation in Nevada.

Microbiota (microorganisms) are known to colonize tufas, a type of porous rock resulting from evaporation in lakes and hot springs. Growing evidence in the past decade suggests that microorganisms actively participate in the tufa formation process. However, the microbial relevance in tufa growth is difficult to assess in natural systems. If microbial activity affects tufa formation, certain characteristics of tufa mounds could be considered biosignatures on Earth or elsewhere (e.g., Mars). In this journal article, scientists characterize such microbial communities and attempt to explain their role in the rapid formation of active columnar tufas of Big Soda Lake, Nevada. A particular focus of this research was to better understand the role of ureolysis (the breakdown of the organic compound urea into ammonia and carbon dioxide) in this process.

The article was published on August 2nd, 2021 in the scientific journal Geobiology. Dr. Rosen passed away earlier this year before the article was published. Dr. Rosen was a world-renowned USGS research hydrologist who was recently acknowledged by a Stanford study as among the world’s top two percent of scientists in his field.

Read the full article: Potential role for microbial ureolysis in the rapid formation of carbonate tufa mounds.