This report reviews how terrestrial hot spring systems can sustain diverse and abundant microbial communities and preserve their fossil records. Hot springs are dependable water sources, even in arid environments. They deliver reduced chemical species and other solutes to more oxidized surface environments, thereby providing redox energy and nutrients. Spring waters have diverse chemical compositions, and their outflows create thermal gradients and chemical precipitates that sustain diverse microbial communities and entomb their remnants. These environments probably were important habitats for ancient benthic microbial ecosystems, and it has even been postulated that life arose in hydrothermal systems. Thermal spring communities are fossilized in deposits of travertine, siliceous sinter, and iron minerals (among others) that are found throughout the geological record back to the oldest known well-preserved rocks at 3.48 Ga. Very few are known before the Cenozoic, but it is likely that there are many more to be found. They preserve fossils ranging from microbes to trees and macroscopic animals. Features on Mars whose morphological and spectroscopic attributes resemble spring deposits on Earth have been detected in regions where geologic context is consistent with the presence of thermal springs. Such features represent targets in the search for evidence of past life on that planet.
Des Marais, D. J., & Walter, M. R. (2019, December 1). Terrestrial Hot Spring Systems: Introduction. Astrobiology. Mary Ann Liebert Inc. https://doi.org/10.1089/ast.2018.1976