Cryptoendolithic alteration of Antarctic sandstones: Pioneers or opportunists?

Blackhurst, R.L.; Genge, M.J.; Kearsley, A.T. and Grady, M.M. (2005). Cryptoendolithic alteration of Antarctic sandstones: Pioneers or opportunists? Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 110(E12), article no. E12S24.



The cryptoendolithic habitat of the Antarctic Dry Valleys has been considered a good analogy for past Martian ecosystems, if life arose on the planet. Yet cryptoendoliths are thought to favor the colonization of rocks that have a preexisting porous structure, e. g., sandstones. This may weaken their significance as exact analogues of potential rock-colonizing organisms on Mars, given our current understanding of the dominant volcanic nature of Martian geology. However, the production of oxalic acid, by these lichendominated communities, and its weathering potential indicate that it could be an aid in rock colonization, enabling endoliths to inhabit a wider variety of rock types. Utilizing ICP-AES and scanning electron microscope techniques, this study investigates elemental and mineralogical compositions within colonized and uncolonized layers in individual sandstone samples. This is in order to determine if the weathering of mineral phases within the colonized layers causes an increase in the amount of pore space available for colonization. The results show that colonized layers are more weathered than uncolonized, deeper portions of the rock substrate. Layers within uncolonized samples have uniform compositions. Differences between the colonized and uncolonized layers also occur to varying extents within colonized rocks of different mineralogical maturities. The results confirm that cryptoendoliths modify their habitat through the production of oxalic acid and suggest that over time this directly increases the porosity of their inhabited layer, potentially increasing the biomass it can support.

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