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Overview of analogue science activities at the McGill Arctic Research Station, Axel Heiberg Island, Canadian High Arctic

Department of Geography, Trent University, Environmental Sciences Building, Symons Campus, 1600 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON, Canada K9J 7B8
Planetary and Space Science (Impact Factor: 1.63). 05/2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.pss.2009.01.008

ABSTRACT The Canadian High Arctic contains several of the highest fidelity Mars analogue sites in the world. Situated at nearly 80° north, Expedition Fjord on Axel Heiberg Island is located within a polar desert climate, with the surrounding landscape and conditions providing an invaluable opportunity to examine terrestrial processes in a cold, dry environment. Through the Canadian Space Agency's Analogue Research Network program, scientific activities based out of the McGill Arctic Research Station (M.A.R.S.) are extremely broad in scope, representing physical, biological, and technological investigations. Some of the most unique hydrogeologic features under investigation near M.A.R.S. are a series of cold saline springs that maintain liquid-state flow year round regardless of air temperature. Previous studies have examined their geomorphic relation to discharge-related formations, water chemistry, temperature monitoring, discharge rates, and combined flow/thermal modeling. Recent investigations have identified microbial communities and characterized biological activity within the springs and within permafrost sections, having direct relevance to astrobiological analogue research goals. Another main thrust of research activities based at M.A.R.S. pertains to the detection, mapping, and quantification of subsurface ice deposits. A long-term study is presently underway examining polygonal terrain, comparing surficial patterns found in the region with those identified on Mars, and using surface morphology to estimate ice wedge volumes through a combination of aerial photography interpretation and ground-based geophysical techniques. Other technological developments include the use of in situ microscopy for the detection of biomarkers and improved permafrost drilling techniques. This paper presents an overview of previous studies undertaken at M.A.R.S. over the past decades and will describe in detail both present and upcoming work.

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    • "Archaeal phylotypes were related to those found in hypersaline deepsea methane-seep sediments and were dominated by the ANaerobic MEthane group 1a (ANME-1a) clade of anaerobic methane oxidizing archaea indicating that the thermogenic methane exsolving from the LH spring source may act as an energy and carbon source for sustaining anaerobic oxidation of methane-based microbial metabolism under ambient hypersaline , subzero conditions (Niederberger et al. 2010). The springs on AHI are regarded as Martian analog sites due to their unique geology, climate, and geomorphology which mimic conditions that did once, or currently exist, on Mars (Pollard et al. 2009). For example, a gully which formed during the past decade on Mars provides compelling evidence that liquid water (or brine) may exist on Mars (Malin et al. 2006; McEwen et al. 2011), while the trace amounts of methane in the Mars atmosphere (Formisano et al. 2004) may originate from localized 'hot spots' or 'plumes' of methane arising from the frozen terrestrial Martian surface (Mumma et al. 2009). "
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