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Autotrophic Ecosystems on the Early EarthOphiolite sequences, sections of lower oceanic crust and upper mantle that have been thrust onto continental craton, are located in northern and central California and provide easily accessible areas that serve as good analogs for similar, more extensive areas of the early Earth. We have begun investigating and characterizing these sites in order to understand better the processes that may be responsible for the water chemistry, mineralogy and biology of similar environments on the early Earth. The geophysical and geochemical processes in these terranes provide niches for unique communities of extremeophiles and likely provide a good analog to the location that first gave rise to life on Earth. The ophiolites found in northern and central California include the Trinity, Josephine, Coast Range and Point Sal, all of which are approximately 160 million years old. Fluids from serpentinizing springs are generally alkaline with high pH and H2 contents, indicating that the mafic rock compositions control the fluid composition through water-rock reactions during relatively low-grade hydrothermal processes. There are significant amounts of primary mineralogy remaining in the rocks, meaning that substantial alteration processes are still occurring in these terranes. The general reaction for serpentinization of olivine is given by one of the authors. olivine + H2O = serpentine + brucite + magnetite + H2. We have analyzed the mineralogical composition of several rock samples collected from the Coast Range Ophiolite near Clear Lake, CA by electron microprobe. The remnant primary mineralogy is fairly urnform in composition, with an olivine composition of Fo(sub 90), and with pyroxene compositions of En(sub 90) for orthopyroxene and En(sub 49)Wo(sub 48)Fs(sub 03) for the clinopyroxene. Other primary phases observed include chromites and other spinels. Examination of petrographic thin sections reveals that serpentinization reactions have occurred in these locations. The serpentine resulting from aqueous alteration of olivine resides in veins that are see to cross cut the primary mineral grains. There are several generations of alteration products, comprised mostly of serpentines that are magnesium rich, with magnetite, brucite and carbonates observed as accessory minerals. The formation of carbonates can be taken to indicate the presence of CO2 in the altering fluids. We collected samples from a spring in the Coast Range Ophiolite in order to determine whether the geochemical environment serves as a habitat for chemotrophic microorganisms. DNA was extracted from the sediment samples and the 16s rRNA gene was PCR amplified using universal Archaeal primers. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) was used to determine the community of Archaea thriving in these samples. Our results indicate that there were 8 different genera of Archaea from a single sample. A sequence was obtained from one of these eight. The sequence is of an organism similar to Halorubrum tibetense, and alkalophilic Archaeon. This result suggests that these environments are likely hosts for communities of organisms that are adapted for the unique chemistry provided by the alkaline spring.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Schulte, M. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 21, 2013
Publication Date
August 6, 2003
Subject Category
Geosciences (General)
Meeting Information
Exobiology P.I. Symposium
Funding Number(s)
PROJECT: RTOP 344-34-21-10
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.