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

Department of Geography, McGill University, 805 Sherbrooke St. W., Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 2K6; Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, 21111 Lakeshore Blvd., Ste. Anne de Bellevue, QC, Canada H9X 3V9; Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, SETI Institute, Mountain View, CA 94043, USA; Jackson School of Geosciences, Department of Geological Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station, Mail Stop C-1100, Austin, TX 78712-0254, USA; Department of Biomedical Engineering, McGill University, Lyman Duff Medical Building, 3775 University St., Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 2B4; Department of Geography, Trent University, Environmental Sciences Building, Symons Campus, 1600 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON, Canada K9J 7B8; Department of Space Science, Canadian Space Agency, 6767 Route de l’Aeroport, Saint Hubert, QC, Canada J3Y 8Y9
Planetary and Space Science (Impact Factor: 2.11). 01/2009; 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.

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Assessing vulnerability is an important component of human dimensions of climate change (HDCC) research. Vulnerability assessments identify and characterize who and what are sensitive to climatic risks and why, characterize adaptive capacity and its determinants, and identify opportunities for adaptation. This paper examines the importance of case study and analogue methodologies in vulnerability research, reviews the historical evolution of the two methodologies in the HDCC field, and identifies ways in which they can be used to increase our understanding of vulnerability. Case studies involve in-depth place-based research that focuses on a particular exposure unit (e.g., community, industry, etc.) to characterize vulnerability and its determinants. Temporal analogues use past and present experiences and responses to climatic variability, change and extremes to provide insights for vulnerability to climate change; spatial analogues involve conducting research in one region and identifying parallels to how another region might be affected by climate change. Vulnerability research that uses case studies and analogues can help to develop an understanding of the determinants of vulnerability and how they interact, and identify opportunities to reduce vulnerability and enhance adaptive capacity to current and future climate risks. This information can assist policy makers in developing adaptation plans and to mainstream climate change adaptation into other policy- and decision-making processes. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website
    Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change. 04/2010; 1(3):374 - 392.
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Lost Hammer (LH) spring is a unique hypersaline, subzero, perennial high Arctic spring arising through thick permafrost. In the present study, the microbial and geochemical characteristics of the LH outflow channels, which remain unfrozen at ≥-18°C and are more aerobic/less reducing than the spring source were examined and compared to the previously characterized spring source environment. LH channel sediments contained greater microbial biomass (~100-fold) and greater microbial diversity reflected by the 16S rRNA clone libraries. Phylotypes related to methanogenesis, methanotrophy, sulfur reduction and oxidation were detected in the bacterial clone libraries while the archaeal community was dominated by phylotypes most closely related to THE ammonia-oxidizing Thaumarchaeota. The cumulative percent recovery of (14)C-acetate mineralization in channel sediment microcosms exceeded ~30% and ~10% at 5 and -5°C, respectively, but sharply decreased at -10°C (≤1%). Most bacterial isolates (Marinobacter, Planococcus, and Nesterenkonia spp.) were psychrotrophic, halotolerant, and capable of growth at -5°C. Overall, the hypersaline, subzero LH spring channel has higher microbial diversity and activity than the source, and supports a variety of niches reflecting the more dynamic and heterogeneous channel environment.
    Extremophiles 03/2012; 16(2):177-91. · 2.20 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In recent years evidence for spring deposits on Mars has been mounting. It seems increasingly likely that groundwater upwelling and surfacing as springs may be responsible for some mineral deposits on Mars’ surface. In order to more easily detect and better understand potential spring deposits on Mars, it is pertinent that we gain a better understanding of the distribution of minerals at cold spring systems on Earth. Here, we report on the detailed mineralogy and distribution of precipitates in crusts and sediments of three non-volcanic perennial saline cold spring systems associated with gypsum/anhydrite diapirs on Axel Heiberg Island, Canada: Wolf spring (WS; also known as Lost Hammer), Colour Peak springs (CP), and Gypsum Hill springs (GH). At these sites permafrost, frigid winter temperatures, and arid atmospheric conditions approximate conditions of present-day, as well as past, Mars. Mineralogy of the three springs is dominated by halite (NaCl), calcite (CaCO3), gypsum (CaSO4·2H2O), thenardite (Na2SO4), mirabilite (Na2SO4·10H2O), and elemental sulfur (S°). Minerals at WS are more sodium-rich than at the other two sites, and water salinity is much higher, suggesting water flows through halite in the subsurface. Mirabilite is likely deposit at WS during winter months and dehydrates to thenardite during summer months. Elemental sulfur is typically associated with gypsum, and may be related to microbial metabolism. Spring sediments are home to thriving microbial communities in winter and summer months, and presumably year round. If spring systems did exist on the surface of Mars, they may represent environments capable of supporting microbial life. It is not known to what extent mineral crusts in cold saline spring systems on Earth preserve evidence of microbial life, or if they ever did on Mars. Therefore, studying terrestrial saline spring mineral deposits such as those on Axel Heiberg Island may help us to better understand cold spring precipitation on Mars and guide us in the search for minerals that may have been precipitated in spring systems and that may contain evidence of life. Additionally, spectral data from Europa indicates the presence of mirabilite. While the depositional environment on Europa differs from Axel Heiberg Island, the springs may still be a good mineralogical analogue, given the precipitation of mirabilite by the upwelling of cold, salty subsurface water, in a cold, semi-arid desert environment.
    Icarus 06/2013; 224(2):364–381. · 3.16 Impact Factor