LPL Colloquium: Dr. Mark Salvatore
From Microbes to Exoplanets: Ecological Remote Sensing of the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica and Beyond
Dr. Mark Salvatore
Northern Arizona University
The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are some of the coldest and driest ice-free areas on Earth. However, ephemeral glacial melt streams host a variety of photosynthetic extremophile communities that are adapted to these harsh environmental conditions. Composed primarily of microbial colonies, mosses, and the less common microinvertebrates, these communities find ways to lay dormant during the frozen Antarctic winter and reanimate during the short thawing season in the austral summer.
While the McMurdo Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program has studied these communities for nearly three decades, these studies are limited in both space and time by the vast geographic scales and logistical difficulties of Antarctic field work. In this presentation, I will describe our recent efforts to utilize remote sensing data to monitor these ecological systems, model their activity, and make landscape-scale predictions regarding the biomass and productivity of the McMurdo Dry Valleys. The simplicity of these communities and their ability to survive under extreme environmental conditions also make these ecosystems an intriguing astrobiological analog. Their adaptability and hardiness have long intrigued researchers as potential analogs to martian microbial life. This presentation will conclude with some wild extrapolations regarding the detectability of simple photosynthetic communities elsewhere within our solar system and beyond, with particular emphasis on the remote investigation of exoplanets.
Host: Dr. Lynn Carter