Hello everyone!

This is my first post on SAGANet but I am a long-time fan of the site and its community.

I have decided that understanding serpentinzation; it's microbial communities, it's detectable bio-signatures, and it's prevalence is probably my best bet as a future researcher to contribute to the discovery of life on other worlds.

I am currently trying to intricate myself in a graduate program but am having mixed results mainly due to a pervasive lack of funding. Accordingly I have decided that creating proposals and applying for external funding may be a good route.

At any rate, the purpose of this post is to stimulate discussion about serpentinization and flush out potential research prospects (and maybe help me pick a topic for proposal). I hope this doesn't seem lazy! I have read a great many of the available/open-access papers and literature and have my own ideas but I thought the SAGANet community could help me too. (There is no replacing a good discussion)

To start the discussion I have some basic questions which hopefully some more learned users can educate me about:

1. What is the spatial/geographic nature of serpentinization:
a. What does our current state of understanding say about how widely distributed serpentinizing fields are (marine and/or terrestrial) ?
b. Can we predict and/or detect where they might be located within a reasonable degree of accuracy?
c. (could autonomous underwater vehicles aid in discovering new fields [maybe via isotopic fractionation of C13H3D or simple pH/alkalinity])

2. What is the current state of biogeochemical understanding?
a. What is the relationship between alkalinity, reducing power and availability of electron acceptors and the difficulty of sustaining life's metabolism?
b.How do we go about detecting/locating extraterrestrial serpentinization?
spectroscopically? (or is the necessary instrument sensitivity beyond our current and/or likely near-future means)

Even if you can't answer these questions specifically I'd love to hear any informed opinion or two cents on the subject!

Thanks everyone!

-Alexander

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Hi Alex,

Thanks for your post! I'll try to answer it. Feel free to follow up if you have more questions:

1. What is the spatial/geographic nature of serpentinization:

It's pretty broad because it occurs on land (in ophiolites) and underwater (like at Lost City). Check out http://serpentinization.weebly.com/serpentinization-and-life.html and rplnai.org


a. What does our current state of understanding say about how widely distributed serpentinizing fields are (marine and/or terrestrial) ?

I think their spread is fairly understood on land. Likely not so underwater.


b. Can we predict and/or detect where they might be located within a reasonable degree of accuracy?

On land, you look for alkaline pH and olivine rich basement.


c. (could autonomous underwater vehicles aid in discovering new fields [maybe via isotopic fractionation of C13H3D or simple pH/alkalinity]).

I don't know to be honest. It seems that isotopes would be very diluted quickly. Vents are typically discovered because of the "smoke" they generate, which is much more widespread and is picked up by particulate detectors.

2. What is the current state of biogeochemical understanding?

That's a broad question :). Cycling of which element?


a. What is the relationship between alkalinity, reducing power and availability of electron acceptors and the difficulty of sustaining life's metabolism?

This also is broad, because you haven't specified a metabolism. For the case of methanogens, it's complicated for the following reasons: Hydrogen (e donor) is generated during serpentinization --> good. High pH means concentration of CO2 (e acceptor) is very low because of pH-dependent C speciation.


b.How do we go about detecting/locating extraterrestrial serpentinization?

Currently we can only detect past serpentinization. Serpentine has been detected on the surface of Mars using spectroscopy.


spectroscopically? (or is the necessary instrument sensitivity beyond our current and/or likely near-future means)

spectroscopically works! see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2010GL042596/full

Cheers

Hi Alex,

Interesting post! I know very little about serpentinization, but since your post mentioned detecting it on other worlds I thought I'd throw in a comment.

Namely, for question 2b: How do we go about detecting/locating extraterrestrial serpentination?

I would like to mention that we can currently only detect serpentine in our solar system. For exoplanets, the spectroscopy signal we receive is dominated by the atmosphere. It's very possible you were already referring to just our solar system, but I thought I should mention this just in case.

Thanks,

Jake

Alex-

I'm an amateur scientist but I was allowed to speak at the 2nd Landing Site meeting
for rhe Mars2020 rover. I advocated returning a sample of serpentine from Mars in
the 2020's. Go to marsnext.jpl.nasa.gov
Click on 2nd Workshop upper left. Scroll to Aug. 5 at 10:20 AM
This was documented at the Mars Society website blog # 34 on the Education page.
Google " it's never too late to fulfill your childhood dreams "

Robert Bruner- new member of saganet.org- 5/10/2016
Alex-

You certainly are on the right track of the origin of life and finding
biosignatures on Mars. Check out the European Astrobiology Roadmap,
Astromap, page 218, concerning Serpentinization. There is an excellent
description. You can Google it. Published March, 2016. ASTROMAP.
It suggests where further work is needed. The University of Colorado has
a five million dollar grant. Contact Dr. Alexis Templeton. Geology Dept

Robert Bruner
Hey Everyone,

Thanks so much for the feedback. I was recently accepted to URI's M.S. program and will be working on serpentinizing fluids and the associated microbiome as part of the Rock Powered life team via the NAI!

So hopefully I'll be part of finding the answers to these questions very soon.


By the way, Is anyone here going to the Humans to Mars conferenmce in DC next week? If so I woudl love to meet up! I'm currently the only one of my friends and family strange enough to drive the 400+ miles to listen to people talk for 10 hours about space travel.

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