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Biogenic iron mineralization at Iron Mountain, CA with implications for detection with the Mars Curiosity rover

March 21, 2014

(Introduction) Microbe-mineral interactions and biosignature preservation in oxidized sulfidic ore bodies (gossans) are prime candidates for astrobiological study. Such oxidized iron systems have been proposed as analogs for some Martian environments. Recent studies identified microbial fossils preserved as mineral-coated filaments. This study documents microbially-mediated mineral biosignatures in hydrous ferric oxide (HFO) and ferric oxyhydroxysulfates (FOHS) in three environments at Iron Mountain, CA. We investigated microbial community preservation via HFO and FOHS precipitation and the formation of filamentous mineral biosignatures. These environments included 1) actively precipitating (1000's yrs), naturally weathered HFO from in situ gossan, and 3) remobilized iron deposits, which contained lithified clastics and zones of HFO precipitate. We used published biogenicity criteria as guidelines to characterize the biogenicity of mineral filaments. These criteria included A) an actively precipitating environment where microbes are known to be coated in minerals, B) presence of extant microbial communities with carbon signatures, C) structures observable as a part of the host rock, and D) biological morphology, including cellular lumina, multiple member population, numerous taxa, variable and 3-D preservation, biological size ranges, uniform diameter, and evidence of flexibility. This study explores the relevance and detection of these biosignatures to possible Martian biosignatures. Similar filamentous biosignatures are resolvable by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) onboard the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, Curiosity, and may be identifiable as biogenic if present on Mars.

Publication Year 2014
Title Biogenic iron mineralization at Iron Mountain, CA with implications for detection with the Mars Curiosity rover
Authors Amy J. Williams, Dawn Y. Sumner, Charles N. Alpers, Kate M. Campbell, D. Kirk Nordstrom
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70138526
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center