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Greenland’s Ice Sheet is Similar in Many Ways to the Solar System’s Icy Worlds and Can Teach Us How to Search for Life

12 Oct 2021, 20:43 UTC
Greenland’s Ice Sheet is Similar in Many Ways to the Solar System’s Icy Worlds and Can Teach Us How to Search for Life
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Many regions on Earth are temperate, nutrient-rich, stable environments where life seems to thrive effortlessly. But not all of Earth. Some parts, like Greenland’s ice sheet, are inhospitable.

In our nascent search for life elsewhere in the Solar System, it stands to reason that we’ll be looking at worlds that are marginal and inhospitable. Icy worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus are our most likely targets. These frozen worlds have warm oceans under layers of ice.

What can Greenland’s cryo-ecosystems tell us about searching for life on icy bodies like Europa and Enceladus?

Any organisms adapted to live on Greenland’s Ice Sheet (GrIS) have to be tough. It’s an extreme environment where life has to deal with prolonged exposure to sub-zero temperatures. Earth’s polar regions are also subjected to more radiation than other parts of Earth, due to the nature of the magnetosphere. According to some scientists, the GrIS can help us in our search for life on other worlds, where conditions are similarly extreme.

Laura Sánchez-García is a geoscientist at the Centro de Astrobiología in Madrid, Spain. Sanchez-Garcia visited a field site in Greenland in July 2021 to study microbial cryo-ecosystems. The GrIS is kind ...

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