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For my research in the Atacama Desert (Chile) we combine sedimentological and geochemical soil analysis with photogrammteric reconstruction of polygonal soils - in order to gain insights on their fundamental characteristics, origin and evolution.
January 2018 - October 2018
- BMBF-Verbundprojekt: Entwicklung einer effizienten Hochstromionenquelle für Untersuchungen von Mikrometeoriten mit Beschleunigermassenspektrometrie, (AG Breitschwerdt)
Polygonal networks occur on various terrestrial and extraterrestrial surfaces holding valuable information on the pedological and climatological conditions under which they develop. However, unlike periglacial polygons that are commonly used as an environmental proxy, the information that polygons in the hyper‑arid Atacama Desert can provide is lit...
Background The hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert is an extremely harsh environment thought to be colonized by only a few heterotrophic bacterial species. Current concepts for understanding this extreme ecosystem are mainly based on the diversity of these few species, yet a substantial area of the Atacama Desert hyperarid topsoil is covered by ex...
The Atacama Desert is the oldest and driest non-polar desert on Earth. Millions of years of hyperaridity enabled salt accumulations through atmospheric deposition. These salts can serve as proxies to decipher the interaction between water and soil as well as to understand the habitability with changing environmental settings. Therefore, we investig...
Polygonal grounds are landscape features commonly associated with periglacial environments originating from freeze-thawing cycles or frost-related processes. However, such a genesis is unlikely for polygonal grounds on alluvial surfaces in the warm and hyper-arid Atacama Desert due to the lack of enduring sub-zero temperatures and limited water ava...
The accumulation of thousands of boulder-sized clasts into boulder fields in the Atacama Desert has been linked to seismic-driven downslope transport, a rare sedimentary process corroborated by this study. We surveyed boulder arrangements occurring in the Atacama Desert and identified three accumulation types for further investigation: a small circ...
The next two rover missions to Mars, ESA/Roscosmos’s ExoMars2020 and NASA’s Mars2020, will carry for the first time Raman spectrometers potentially able to dectect traces of past or present life. To support and interpret future spectroscopic data correctly a better understanding of potential habitable environments and putative biosignatures, using...
The hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth and has been for more than 10 million years, rendering the soils a suitable analog environment for Mars, where today´s life detection methods come to their limit of sensitivity. However, a recent study has shown that after rare rainfall events these Mars-like soils can te...
Patterned grounds represent widespread and yet puzzling landscape features on Mars and periglacial regions on Earth and are believed to form through the repetitive deformation of the ground. A better knowledge of their distribution, morphological variability, and processes of formation can give clues about past and recent climatic conditions, the c...
Even in one of the driest places on Earth, the Atacama Desert, life has found adaptive strategies to decreasing amounts of water: from refuges inside or below rocks as endoliths or hypoliths to inside salts in hygroscopic niches (Davila & Schulze-Makuch, 2016). In the hyperarid core though, one of the last refuges for life are inside salt crusts us...
Patterns occur in a variety of forms in our natural world, including living and non-living systems. These patterns are somewhat visible regularities or, put in another way, are the absence of randomness. They are observable on the ground surface of our planet and other planetary bodies as lines, circles, nets and polygons, collectively referred to as patterned grounds. Patterned grounds are widespread in high-alpine and arctic environments on Earth, but also on Mars, where their formation is linked to frozen water ice and oscillating freezing temperatures (e.g., freeze-thawing cycles & frost heave). However, we find those patterns, in particular, polygonal networks also in the Yungay area of the hyper-arid Atacama Desert, where water availability is extremely limited and freezing temperatures are almost absent. Hence, processes and/or environmental conditions must be distinct from those forming patterns in the cold environments. The goal of this project is to investigate the formation processes of polygonal networks in the hyper-arid Atacama Desert, to better understand the information they can provide, and their relevance as habitat including their implications for Mars. In order to identify the underlying formation processes, various soil characteristics (e.g., salt content, mineralogy, temperature profiles) and morphometric parameters (e.g., size, orientation, shape) of various patterned grounds will be determined. This will be realized through a multi-methodological approach including drone-based remote sensing followed by 3D-reconstruction of the patterned grounds, geochemical and sedimentological soil analyses, as well as long-term field and laboratory experiments. Patterned grounds occurring on Mars are expected to hold much information on long-term climatic conditions and the distribution of ground ice. However, thus far they have only been compared to those occurring in periglacial regions on Earth. Hence, we anticipate that a comparative study of all three study areas will advance our understanding of ongoing soil processes in the Atacama Desert and periglacial regions, and furthermore provide insights on potentially analogous processes occurring on Mars.