Life in the Atacama: Searching for life with rovers (science overview)

Nathalie A. Cabrol, David Wettergreen, Kim Warren-Rhodes, Edmond A. Grin, Jeffrey Moersch, Guillermo Chong Diaz, Charles S. Cockell, Peter Coppin, Cecilia Demergasso, James M. Dohm, Lauren Ernst, Gregory Fisher, Justin Glasgow, Craig Hardgrove, Andrew N. Hock, Dominic Jonak, Lucia Marinangeli, Edwin Minkley, Gian Gabriele Ori, Jennifer PiatekErin Pudenz, Trey Smith, Kristen Stubbs, Geb Thomas, David Thompson, Alan Waggoner, Michael Wagner, Shmuel Weinstein, Michael Wyatt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The Life in the Atacama project investigated the regional distribution of life and habitats in the Atacama Desert of Chile. We sought to create biogeologic maps through survey traverses across the desert using a rover carrying biologic and geologic instruments. Elements of our science approach were to: Perform ecological transects from the relatively wet coastal range to the and core of the desert; use converging evidence from science instruments to reach conclusions about microbial abundance; and develop and test exploration strategies adapted to the search of scattered surface and shallow subsurface microbial oases. Understanding the ability of science teams to detect and characterize microbial life signatures remotely using a rover became central to the project. Traverses were accomplished using an autonomous rover in a method that is technologically relevant to Mars exploration. We present an overview of the results of the 2003, 2004, and 2005 field investigations. They include: The confirmed identification of microbial habitats in daylight by detecting fluorescence signals from chlorophyll and dye probes; the characterization of geology by imaging and spectral measurement; the mapping of life along transects; the characterization of environmental conditions; the development of mapping techniques including homogeneous biological scoring and predictive models of habitat location; the development of exploration strategies adapted to the search for life with an autonomous rover capable of up to 10 kin of daily traverse; and the autonomous detection of life by the rover as it interprets observations on-the-fly and decides which targets to pursue with further analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberG04S02
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 28 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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