Atmospheric Nitrate as a Potential Nutrient for Life on Mars

Preprints.org
Jianxun ShenEva Stueeken

Abstract

Nitrate is rich in Mars sediments owing to long-term atmospheric photolysis, oxidation, and deposition coupled with a lack of leaching via rainfall. The Atacama Desert in Chile, which is similarly dry and rich in nitrate deposits, is used as a Mars analog in this study to explore the potential effects of high nitrate levels on microbial growth. Seven study sites sampled across an aridity gradient in the Atacama Desert were categorized into 3 clusters – hyperarid, intermediate, and arid sites, as defined by major elements in the regolith, associated biomass, and precipitation. Intriguingly, the distribution of nitrate concentrations in the shallow subsurface suggests that the buildup of nitrate is not solely controlled by precipitation. Correlations of nitrate with SiO2/Al2O3 and grain sizes suggest that sedimentation rates are also important in controlling nitrate distribution. At arid sites receiving more than 10 mm/yr precipitation, rainfall shows a stronger impact on biomass than nitrate does. However, high nitrate to organic carbon ratios are generally beneficial to N assimilation as evidenced both by soil geochemistry and enriched culturing experiments. This study suggests that even in the absence of precipitation on conte...Continue Reading

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