Europlanet will travel to Ethiopia to perform astrobiological studies



Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (RI) is a European project funded within the framework of Horizon 2020 that aims to serve as a meeting point for planetary sciences in Europe, organizing initiatives linked to this field, between the ones that stand out the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC), that is celebrated every year. It is a collaborative project involving more than 30 main partners and, as associated figures, more than 100 institutes of the European continent.

The fields of work and specialization that this project promotes are very varied: from space missions, to analysis infrastructures in the best European laboratories. One of the actions with the greatest impact so far has been that of the terrestrial analogues, coordinated by the researcher of the Center for Astrobiology (CSIC-INTA) Felipe Gómez . Several work packages develop different initiatives, from the TA (Transnational Activity) that covers the visit of external users to the terrestrial analogues investigated in Europlanet , to the JRA (Joint Research Activities) that consist of the study from extreme places with the objective of validating them as terrestrial analogues. The visit to Dallol , in Ethiopia , is part of this last type of activities.

The campaign in this enclave of the Danakil Depression will be carried out in collaboration with the University of Bologna (Italy) and the Center Ibn Battuta > (Morocco). This area of ​​northeastern Ethiopia has a great astrobiological interest, since it is cataloged as the hottest uninhabited place on the planet. It is also one of the most inaccessible areas of the Earth, despite not being far from urban centers. At present, caravans displacements for the extraction of salt and potash - the Depression of Danakil is one of the most important sites of potash production - are still done on camels.

The characteristics of the place where the campaign will take place show its great scientific interest, given that "the conditions for the activity of extreme microorganisms are optimal," Gómez said. It is a geologically active area due to the Dallol volcano , a volcanic crater that was formed by the intrusion of basaltic magma into the salt deposits of the Miocene. The emergence of thermal waters presents precipitation of different salts that form colorful structures of great scientific interest and reminiscent of Yellowstone. In addition, phreatic eruptions occurred in 1926 formed craters that are located below sea level and numerous hot springs are discharging brine and acid liquids forming green and acid ponds (pH less than 1) and with high presence of iron oxide and sulfur in the plains dominated by salt.

This time, it is intended to make a geobiological study with the determination of extreme environmental conditions for life that occur in the area, the analysis of biodiversity present under these extreme conditions and the testing of prototypes of meteorological analysis. This last activity is linked to dissemination actions of Europlanet : a European network of schools and institutes will receive the same prototypes of meteorological stations, which will be used as part of the teaching of planetary sciences. Students will compare their data with those obtained in real simulation campaigns carried out by scientists in the field.

Repercussion in media :
  • INTA .


    Fuente: UCC-CAB

    Fecha: 2016-03-30


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