Sulfur species and biosignatures in Sulphur Springs, Valles Caldera, New Mexico-Implications for Mars astrobiology

  • Szynkiewicz A
  • Johnson A
  • Pratt L
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A biogeochemical SO42-cycle was investigated in the acid-hot springs of Valles Caldera, New Mexico using S isotopes and distribution of amino acids. In 2007, a major contribution of SO42-in this modern volcanic setting came from oxidation of H2S from hydrothermal sources, which largely increased SO42-concentrations (up to 2550mgL-1) and decreased pH (down to 2.27) in surface water. A relatively small variation of δ34S among the analyzed S-bearing minerals (2.1 to 4.0‰), fumarole H2S (1.7 to 4.6‰) and dissolved SO42-in modern surface and groundwater (2.5 to 7.9‰) indicates poor evidence of S isotope biosignatures related to microbial disproportionation of elemental S to H2S and SO42-which, in turn, are not effectively captured in the hydrothermal minerals of the studied volcanic setting. This is mainly due to prevailing contribution of reduced S forms from magmatic/hydrothermal sources and considerably smaller microbial activity in acid-hot spring areas. Although hydrothermal gypsum and elemental S effectively trap amino acids, their preservation lifetimes in S-bearing hydrothermal minerals appear to be small. The minimal lifetimes are inferred to be the result of increased temperatures and rapid recycling time of S materials in hydrothermal settings.Landed missions to the Martian surface at sites inferred to have experienced active hydrothermal activity similar to the one studied in Valles Caldera (e.g., elevated volcanic S flux), may provide valuable insight into geological and geochemical processes that have influenced the Martian surface, but may provide minimal potential for recording either amino acid or S isotopic biosignatures of an extinct Martian ecosystem. © 2011 Elsevier B.V..

Author-supplied keywords

  • Amino acids
  • Mars
  • Sulfur isotopes
  • Sulphur Springs
  • Valles Caldera
  • Volcanism

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  • Anna Szynkiewicz

  • Adam P. Johnson

  • Lisa M. Pratt

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