The Tinto River in Spain provides little comfort for most life. The river is naturally similar to the toxic water leaking from old mines, known as acid mine drainage. However, within that harsh river, biologists identified pockets of salt that created an oasis for bacteria. Similar salt deposits on Mars could also provide refuge for life.
“The reason is that conditions in this environment (salt deposits) remain less adverse than those of their surroundings given that they provide protection from radiation, for example,” said Felipe Gómez of Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología in a press release, “and they keep moisture levels higher than outside.”
Five different varieties of microorganisms were found in the salt deposits. The microbes were types of algae from the genera Dunaliella and Cyanidium.
The Tinto River contains salt formations mixed with sulfur and iron, known as jarosite. Similar mineral deposits were identified on Mars by the Opportunity rover in 2004. Other surface salt formations were observed by the Mars Global Surveyor. These Martian deposits could host life or at least preserve its remains, according to the Centro de Astrobiología paper published in Planetary and Space Science.
“From the astrological point of view, salt deposits are of great importance and should be considered when searching for life on space exploration missions, like the current Curiosity rover mission on Mars,” said Gómez.
A Roman bridge over the River Tinto (Ildefonso Grados, Wikimedia Commons)