June 18, 2008

Odd Structures in Canadian Lake Studied

Canadian scientists plan to retrieve samples from a British Columbia lake that might hold clues to the history of life on Earth and other planets.

McMaster University Assistant Professor Greg Slater, an environmental geochemist, said the objects are unique carbonate rock structures, known as microbialites because they are covered with microbes. Some of the microbialites grow at depths of about 180 feet below the surface, necessitating the use of single-person deepwater submersibles, donated by Nuytco Inc.

Are they the result of biological or geological processes? Why are there different microbes living on them and how long have these microbial communities been preserved? These are some of our big questions, said Slater. As amazing as it sounds, the bottom of a lake can answer lots of questions about life on Earth. And how we explore this lake will lay the groundwork for how we will explore Mars.

Pavilion Lake is located about 310 miles north of Vancouver in Marble Canyon Provincial Park. It was formed by a glacier more than 10,000 years ago, and has for the last decade been the site of several studies into astrobiology.

The dives are to begin Monday.