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Extremophiles, Volcanoes and You

March 4, 2009, 12:39 PM

Folks have been suggesting that life on Earth started near volcanic vents for a long time now (and of course, some people don't buy it). Whether or not life sprung forth near hydrothermal vents, undersea black smokers or from the head of Zeus, it doesn't really change the fact that we find organisms living in these places today, expanding what we might consider "habitable" by leaps and bounds. Case and point, researchers from CU-Boulder have recently found a community of micro-organisms happily living near the summit of Volcán Socompa (above) in Chile in the hydrothermal vents. Now, having done field work in the high Andes of Chile (at Volcán Aucanquilcha - say that three times fast), I can attest to the fact that it is as close to working on Mars as you might be able to get on Earth - dry, desolution, mostly lifeless, extreme day/night temperature variations, thin air, the whole nine yards. So, to find these communities shows just how hardy life can be when presented with challenges.

One interesting question not brought up in the article is how quickly might these communities develop. Socompa was last known to have erupted in 5250 B.C. (most likely). This might limit the amount of time for these micro-organisms to take a foothold at the summit of the volcano to at most ~7,000 years. This seems like a pretty reasonable time for life to reemerge after an eruption - the question would be from where did it arrive in a place as desolate as the high Andes of Chile after the eruption. Of course, this also begs the question of whether life like this could exist of Mars, but that is question best left untouched by me. To me, this is just another example of how no matter how destruction we think volcanoes are, life just keeps on coming back for more.

{Hat tip to reader Thomas Donlon for pointing this out to me.}

 

Extremophiles, Volcanoes an...

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