Project Details


The Puyehue-Cordn Caulle volcanic eruption on 4 June 2011 (and ongoing) deposited large amounts of ash and pumice in the area. Especially notable for astrobiology is the development of extensive islands of floating pumice spherules in regional lakes, including Lake Nahuel Haupi, the regions largest. These spherules, initially sterile, will be colonized by microbes over time but ecological succession on such novel substrates has never been described. We will characterize the development of these communities using state-of-the-art DNA sequencing techniques (Ion Torrent) and use modern isotope techniques to study how they obtain nutrient elements (N, P). The project will provide several benefits. It will be the first to document microbial composition and nutrient uptake for these novel lacustrine pumice islands. Such studies are of high astrobiological relevance, as microbial succession on the initially sterile pumice will shed light on similar scenarios during Earths history, such as colonization of land or dynamics following planetary impacts. We will also learn about the suitability of such postvolcanic environments to support life, helping inform interpretation if such habitats are ever identified beyond Earth. Our project will also provide an exciting opportunity for young scientists from our team. Finally, it will help establish a new collaboration in astrobiology with Argentina, a country without a broad astrobiology research community but which offers numerous opportunities. Thus, we address two core NASA goals: to advance the frontiers of knowledge of our planet and our universe and to prepare the next generation of scientists to do likewise.


Working with the Australian Centre for Astrobiology and the NAI Team at MIT, the NAI Team at ASU has participated in the development of two VFTs, one of the Neoproterozoic sediments of the Flinders region in South Australia, and a second of the modern stromatolites at Shark Bay, Western Australia. These developments have been supported by existing resources of these teams. The Flinders VFT is now nearly complete. The Shark Bay trip is ~ 50% complete. The works in progress can be found at The ASU NAI Team plans two additional VFTs: One based at Yellowstone National Park and one at Upheaval Dome, Utah (the latter is also supported by NASA EPOESS funding). The Flinders VFT has proven popular with the NAI community, leading to many requests to produce additional VFTs. However, the present version of the VFT has not been formally assessed. Additionally, the volume of requests will soon exceed the ability of Mr. Bruce to keep pace.
Effective start/end date2/1/091/31/15


  • NASA: Ames Research Center: $7,287,986.00


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