Friday , June 2 2023

The darkest place on Earth is so much that the last rains caused mass extinction


The lakes formed in the heart of the Atacama desert during the rain.
Photo: © Carlos Gonzalez Silva (Astrobiological Center)

It is assumed that if rain falls in an extremely dry place, water should act as a blessing of nature that leaves the earth of life alive, right? It turns out that reality is not always in fairy tales, and the rain on the site too much like the desert Atacama can be a curse.

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In June 2017, rain fell in the Atakam desert. Two years ago it was raining again. These are two extremely rare events, and when we say extremely rare, we mean the fact that in Atacama there is no previous rain in the last 500 years. Geological data show that the desert in the last 150 million years is a dry region, and that over the last 15 million years it has been a hyper arid region. The driest desert on the planet is also the oldest.

This panorama makes Atacama a privileged place to study ecosystems in order to try to extrapolate how extreme ecosystems can be on other planets. Although it is hell on Earth, Atacama is not liberated from life. Over a sterile earth, there are a million bacteria and extreme microorganisms that are used in an extremely dry environment, with a high salinity rate and constantly bombarded high doses of ultraviolet rays. In many ways, Atacama is a terrestrial analogue of Mars. For example, nitrate deposits in the field are very similar to those found in the Curiosity Rover.

Needless to say, astrobiologists have come up with enthusiasm to examine how the Atacama reaction is in the rain. "We expected a massive explosion of life," says astrobiologist Alberto Gonzalez Fairen of the Spanish Astrobiological Center (CAB). Instead, what they found were real apocalypse.

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"Contrary to what can be expected, the contribution of water did not mean the flourishing of life in Atacama, but quite the contrary," says Armando AzuaBustos, a CAB researcher and the first author of the study. "The rain caused a huge devastation of the microbial species that settled these places before the rain." Even the lakes that formed after the rain were able to stay alive. Researchers, whose results were just published in the journal Natural Scientific Reports, they did not find cyanobacteria or microalgae that could restart the ecosystem.

Understand the fate of Mars

Rainbow was first photographed in the heart of the Atacama desert.
Photo: © Carlos Gonzalez Silva (Astrobiological Center)

An analogy is especially interesting because it gives us instructions on what might happen on Mars. The red planet followed a cycle of drying water and precipitation very similar to those in the Atacama. Alberto Gonzalez Fairen explains:

Mars had the first geological period, Noeic (between 4,500 and 3,500 million years ago), during which it contained plenty of water on its surface. We know this from the amount of hydrogeological evidence that has been preserved, such as the openings of the rivers, lakes and delta.

If at one point life appeared on Mars, this should have occurred during this period, which coincides with the origin of life on Earth. Later, Mars lost its atmosphere and its hydrosphere, becoming the dry and dreary world we know today.

But, occasionally during the Hesperia period (between 3,500 and 3,000 million years ago), large quantities of water dug out their surface in the form of a spillway. If there are still microbiological communities that resist the extreme drying process, they would be subjected to osmotic stressful processes similar to those we studied at Atacama.

In other words, Mars dried up after losing its atmosphere, but later experienced another period of rain. These precipitation, instead of helping to recover the Biosphere of Marty, probably ended it devastating. [CAB y Nature]

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