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Astrobiology. 2003 Winter;3(4):863-77.

Tírez lake as a terrestrial analog of Europa.

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Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA), Torrejón de Ardoz, Spain.


Tírez Lake (La Mancha, central Spain) is proposed as a terrestrial analogue of Europa's ocean. The proposal is based on the comparison of the hydrogeochemistry of Tírez Lake with the geochemical features of the alteration mineralogy of meteoritic precursors and with Galileo's Near Infrared Mapping Spectrometer data on Europa's surface. To validate the astrobiological potential of Tírez Lake as an analog of Europa, different hydrogeochemical, mineral, and microbial analyses were performed. Experimental and theoretical modeling helped to understand the crystallization pathways that may occur in Europa's crust. Calculations about the oxidation state of the hypothetical Europan ocean were estimated to support the sulfate-rich neutral liquid model as the origin of Europa's observed hydrated minerals and to facilitate their comparison with Tírez's hydrogeochemistry. Hydrogeochemical and mineralogical analyses showed that Tírez waters corresponded to Mg-Na-SO(4)-Cl brines with epsomite, hexahydrite, and halite as end members. A preliminary microbial ecology characterization identified two different microbial domains: a photosynthetically sustained community represented by planktonic/benthonic forms and microbial mat communities, and a subsurficial anaerobic realm in which chemolithotrophy predominates. Fluorescence in situ hybridization has been used to characterize the prokaryotic diversity of the system. The subsurficial community seemed to be dominated by sulfate-reducing bacteria and methanogens. Frozen Tírez brines were analyzed by Fourier-transform infrared techniques providing spectra similar to those reported previously using pure components and to the Galileo spectral data. Calorimetric measurements of Tírez brines showed pathways and phase metastability for magnesium sulfate and sodium chloride crystallization that may aid in understanding the processes involved in the formation of Europa's icy crust. The use of fluorescence hybridization techniques for microbial detection and characterization in hypersaline environments makes this methodology strongly advisable for future Europa astrobiological missions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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