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Nutrient and population dynamics in a subglacial reservoir: a simulation case study of the Blood Falls ecosystem with implications for astrobiology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 May 2013

Thomson Mason Fisher*
School of the Environment, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA
Dirk Schulze-Makuch
School of the Environment, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA


Subglacial ecosystems have recently become of interest within the astrobiological community, as they represent a potentially habitable location in otherwise uninhabitable environments. We used data from Blood Falls, particularly the periodic discharge from the subglacial reservoir beneath Taylor Glacier, Antarctica, to construct an ecosystem model of the putative subglacial microbial community residing there using system dynamics modelling. The model results were, for the most part, within an order of magnitude of the geochemical field data. Productivity was quite low, at 6.4×10−5 g carbon l−1 yr−1. Based on the results, we draw the following conjectures for the search for life on Mars: A similar ecosystem would require a continual supply of oxidized iron for energy and generate significant amounts of reduced iron as a waste product, be relatively resilient to temporary disturbances, and, thermodynamically, would require at least 0.003 kJ mol l−1 of energy to survive at that level of productivity. These results may help to better identify the constraints and boundaries of ecosystems in extreme environments, on Earth and other planetary bodies.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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