The WG supports field site activities in order to increase research activity there and also provide a testing environment for testing various astrobiology missions’ related instrumentation. Each of the sites are unique and briefly presented below.
Pilbara area, Australia: over 3 billion years old rocks with well preserved, essentially continuous, geological record of crustal evolution and fossil evidence of early life. This site also preserves features interpreted as putative but debated bio-signatures, making it a good test for evaluating biogenicity criteria, especially in settings with hydrothermal fluid circulation. Its investigation might give information on rock units formed around the time of the origin of biological systems.
Movile cave and Apuseni Mountains ice caves: caves in Romania isolated from the outside world for over 5.5 million years with a unique ecosystem based solely on chemosynthesis. The site could be used to obtain a better understanding of how a subsurface ecosystem evolves and adapts to local environmental conditions, to better understand the evolution of subsurface microorganisms and related biomarkers.
Southern Italian volcanic region: fresh lava fields, submarine hot springs and hydrothermal lakes. The sites contain the Aeolian (Liparian) Islands, Neapolitan volcanic area and Pantelleria Island, with surface or shallow subsurface targets and submarine sites. These are relevant to one of the widely accepted models for the origin of life on early Earth and for understanding the boundaries of life and their associated bio-signatures. Mt. Etna has also been used recently as a Moon analogue to test robotic exploration operations and technologies.
Azores: composed of primitive basaltic rocks with a range of volcanic and hydrothermal sites, providing conditions to understand primitive organisms that exploit chemical energy, and the boundaries of life. The hot springs can be used to study fossilization of bio-signatures relevant to early Earth and the biogenic speleothems in lava tubes as examples of biogenic morphological features.
Iceland: a wide range of unique habitats produced by ice and volcanic interaction, which have been utilized by several programmes in Europe and by NASA. The sulfur-rich chemistry, freezing and thawing of geothermal springs and colonization of lava caves are globally unique. Silica springs support the analysis of preservation conditions. The site allows the investigations of the boundaries of life, bio-signature detection and preservation.
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