The Chilean Altiplano: A High Altitude Analogue for Mars and the Early Earth

General event

The Chilean Altiplano: A High Altitude Analogue for Mars and the Early Earth

  • Event time: 1:30pm
  • Event date: 7th October 2014
  • Speaker: Dr Vernon Phoenix (School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow)
  • Location: Room 2511,

Event details

The Chilean Altiplano is an arid, high altitude (4000 - 6000m) environment which provides some exciting analogies for the surface of Mars and the early Earth. 

Due to its high altitude, low latitude location, it experiences cold sub-zero temperatures yet high levels of solar radiation. As a result, even when air temperatures are very low, solar radiation can cause significant heating of the soil surface causing subsurface ice to melt. Liquid water exists, but soon evaporates. This is analogous to how solar radiation can drive melting and evaporation of water on the Martian surface. As a result, we are currently investigating how molecular signs of life are preserved under these unique conditions in the hope to inform missions to Mars such as ExoMars2018. The Altiplano is also home to numerous geothermal spring systems such as El Tatio. The biological and chemical composition of these springs are similar to the Earth’s ancient oceans in which life first evolved. By studying these spring systems, we have discovered how microorganisms utilize silica mineralization to protect themselves from high levels of UV radiation, both now and on the early Earth.

UK Centre for Astrobiology Seminar Series

The astrobiology seminar series is run by the UK Centre for Astrobiology based in the School of Physics & Astronomy. Astrobiology is a multi-disciplinary subject and the seminar series actively encourages attendance by undergraduates, postgraduates and academic staff from other departments.

For further information or proposals for speakers contact:
Mark Fox-Powell ( [at] or Jesse Harrison (j.p.harrison [at]

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