The Pavilion Lake Research Project is a joint project of NASA and the Canadian Space Agency to study the origin of freshwater microbialites, carbonate structures that form in water with the help of microorganisms, in British Columbia’s Pavilion Lake and Kelly Lake. Fossil microbialites represent some of the earliest traces of life on Earth. Today, microbialites are usually confined to environments that are often too harsh for most organisms. Pavilion Lake and Kelly Lake are usual because they represent non-extreme environments where microbialites form alongside fish, plants, and other species.

Astrobiologists are interested in microbialites because they can shed light on the types of structures that microbes form and the biological signatures they leave behind. This may help to identify traces of life on other worlds. NASA and CSA are using DeepWorker submersibles, scuba, and underwater robots to explore both lakes. Goals are to map the distribution and characterize the morphology of microbialites, measure their growth rate, characterize the microbial community (bacteria, viruses, and algae) living in and on the microbialites, and identify biological, chemical, and physical factors that contribute to the formations.

The Pavilion Lake Research Project needs help from citizen scientists to tag and organize its vast collection of underwater photographs. Participants use a program called Mapper, available at get getmapper.com. Citizen scientists have tagged over one million photographs since the tool went public in October, 2011.

 

Written by Astro1 on April 11th, 2012 , Astrobiology

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