Antarctic volcanoes could hold traces of life on Mars in ships that could be navigated

On Deception Island in Antarctica, steam rises from the beaches, and glaciers actually lie on the black slopes of an active volcano — a rare collision of ice and fire that gives scientists clues about what life might be like on Mars.

The horseshoe-shaped island in the South Shetland Islands is the only place where ships can sail inside the caldera of an active volcano.

In the waters here, about 420 kilometers (260 miles) from Port Williams, Chile, fish, krill, anemones and sea sponges survive, while unique species of lichen and algae thrive in an ecosystem of extreme contrasts.

The uninhabited island is home to perhaps the world's largest colony of chinstrap penguins, seals, seals and sea lions.

The volcano has been active for thousands of years — destroying the British and Chilean bases — in 1967, 1969 and 1970 — and forcing the evacuation of the Argentine base.

Yet life always bounces back and thrives on an island where water temperatures in steam vents measure around 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) and air temperatures drop to -28 degrees.

It's „similar to Mars because what we have (in the past) is a planet with enormous volcanic activity … now there are very cold conditions,” Spanish planetary geologist Miguel de Pablo told AFP.

„This is the best approximation we can get without ever setting foot on Mars,” added de Pablo.

A rich history

Analysis of rocks on Deception Island complements the work of engineers, scientists and astronomers studying Mars from afar.

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In 2023, researchers from the American space agency NASA concluded that Mars once had cyclic seasons, a climate conducive to the development of life, based on evidence found on the Red Planet by the Curiosity rover.

Scientists believe that a massive volcanic eruption changed the planet's atmosphere, which then evaporated and led to the formation of oceans and rivers.

Although the temperature on Mars is very low right now — estimated by NASA to be about -153 degrees Celsius — „Antarctic conditions will help us understand whether the conditions for the development of life can or will exist on Mars,” Dee said. Pablo.

Another Mars rover, Perseverance, will land on the planet in February 2021 to search for signs of past microbial life.

The multi-mission rover will collect 30 rock and soil samples in sealed tubes and send them back to Earth for analysis in the 2030s.

The South Shetlands are claimed by Britain, Chile and Argentina but not administered by any one country. The 1959 Antarctic Treaty says they can be used for „peaceful purposes” and guarantees „freedom of scientific inquiry”.

First visited by British sealers in 1820, Deception Island has a rich history with abandoned scientific sites and an old whaling station rusting in the icy winds.

Wilson Andres Ríos, a researcher and captain of a Colombian naval warship leading a scientific expedition to Antarctica, said the poaching of seals and whales from the island in the early 20th century was „blinding”.

In 1931, a Norwegian whaling station on the island was closed when the price of whale oil collapsed.

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Later, in 1944, Britain established a base there as part of a secret wartime mission to occupy the Antarctic territories.

After several evacuations and eruptions, the island is now dedicated to scientific research.

And, under the warnings of scientists, thousands of tourists are now arriving on ships.

That phenomenon, said Natalia Jaramillo, science coordinator for the Colombian expedition, „is increasing alarmingly.”

(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)

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