This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149.
Dr. Fernando J. Gomez together with Dr. Mateo Martini participate in the program titled: the Europlanet 2024 RI’s TA1 Planetary Field Analogues (PFA) to provide terrestrial geological-geomorphological analogues for volcanic, dry-and humid-cold, hot, highly saline and metalliferous and impact conditions for studies in support of current and forthcoming missions to Mars, the Moon and the icy moons of Jupiter. This enable researchers to undertake multi-disciplinary research programmes in support of planetary missions. As stated in Europlanet 2024 RI’s TA1 Planetary Field Analogues (PFA) some of the goals are:
Dr. Fernando J. Gomez and Dr. Mateo Martini, both researchers at CICTERRA have a long experience in conducting field campaigns in collaborative research projects with international colleagues from both academic (fieldtrips for Washington University, Saint Louis, USA and Trinity College Dublin, Ireland), agency (e.g., NASA) and industry (e.g. > 15 visits from the oil company Petrobras). There were 28 academic visitors in last 3 years of which 19 were international. The facility will be managed by Dr. Fernando Gomez, assisted by Dr. Mateo Martini with administrative and practical support for TA visitors provided by the CICTERRA and CONICET. Fernando J. Gomez is part of the working group on Planetary Environments and Habitability, in the European Astrobiology Institute (contact: Ana.Plesa@dlr.de).
The high-altitude Puna Plateau (4000-6000 meters a.s.l.) of Northwest Argentina (Salta, Jujuy and Catamarca provinces; 22-28º SL) is subject to a cold, arid climate. The area is characterized by hundreds of hypersalinelakes, glaciers, rock glaciers, hydrothermal systems, and environmental extremes with high-UV influx, low water activity, extreme daily temperature fluctuations (> 40ºC), strong winds (gravel dunes due to winds up to 400 km/h, Puruya and Carachi Pampa areas), and a volcanic-dominated geological settings. All these features make the region ideal as a planetary analogue for Mars and other icy planets/moons environments. There are notable interactions between hydrothermal systems, hypersaline lakes and glaciers, both ice and rock. Given the extreme environments, when present life is typically microbial. Locally preserved stromatolites and other microbial carbonates also record evidence of life forms under current and past climate conditions.
The Laguna Negra lake: it is one of the examples of hundreds of similar wetland in the region. It Located at the southeast end of the Laguna Verde Complex (LVC), in the southernmost Puna, the Laguna Negra is a shallow (2 m deep) hypersaline lake (8.63 km2). It comprises a CaCl2-rich brine, with compositions in the main lake and groundwater springs fluctuating between pH of ~ 5.7 and ~ 8 and a salinity between ~ 320 and ~ 9 ppt respectively. The mixing zone between the main lake and groundwater is where most microbial carbonate precipitation takes place (calcite & aragonite). Our published research in the area has characterized the Sedimentology, Biogeochemistry and Geomicrobiology (Gomez at al. 2018).
The high-altitude cryosphere: The high-altitude cryosphere: The high-altitude, cold and arid climate conditions limit the presence of glaciers and the ice is mainly present underground (permafrost). The glaciers have characteristics that make them of particular interest for as planetary analogues. They are small (typically ˃1 km2), situated far above the 0ºC isotherm altitude, and have limited flow. Active rock glaciers represent the most widespread features of the permafrost environment and are found above 4500 m a.s.l. Analogous features has been recorded on Mars. Since 2010, we are monitoring the superficial flow and climatic conditions of three rock glaciers in Northwest Argentina.
The Patagonia region records glacial activity since the late Miocene (c. 7 My). Today, the Southern Patagonia Ice field (48-52º SL) is the largest extra polar ice mass (13,000 km2) in the Southern Hemisphere (40-60 km wide and 120 km long). Numerous temperate outlet glaciers flow from the ice field and terminate on land, sea or lakes. Glaciers on the windward site are feed by high precipitation from Southern Westerlies. Precipitation decreases sharply on the eastern side of the Andes generating arid condition in the Patagonian steppe where numerous small endorreic lakes develop. Some of these lakes record microbial life and its mineralized record (stromatolites) in an environmental setting different to the Puna area. The last 16,000 yr of Patagonian glacier history (post Last Glacial Maximum deglaciation) is being characterized for world-wide correlation. To understand the present glacier behavior, we are monitoring the ice mass balance of the Martial Glacier (Jorge Strelin, collaborator), it has been monitored since 2000 along with two rock glaciers in the Cordillera Fueguina in Tierra del Fuego.