One of the most important discoveries in planetary sciences related to Mars in this decade has been the seasonal and spatial variation in atmospheric CH4. Is this signal an atmospheric biomarker of subsurface life? Over the past decade studies of terrestrial subsurface microbiology in the deep mines of South Africa have revealed an ecosystem powered simply by radioactive decay and water and inhabited by a few species of bacteria that are genetically equipped to live and navigate in this realm. Other processes
may also support chemolithotrophic communities in other tectonically active settings. Environments similar to this could exist on Mars, but would they explain the CH4 signature in the atmosphere?

T.C. Onstott received his B.S. from California Institute of Technology, with a major in Geophysics. He later received a M.A. and Ph.D. in Geology from Princeton University where he has been a professor for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships and was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2007.

Brownbag: Noon, Wednesday February 3, 2010 in 103 Hugel Science Center