This July, we are heading to Krafla volcano in northern Iceland to conduct remote sensing Mars-analogue research. The trip is led by PhD student Jennifer Harris from Birkbeck, University of London, and myself. Joining us are Matt Gunn from Aberystwyth University, and Dr. Pete Grindrod from University College London. We will be testing a prototype of the Panoramic Camera instrument, which will form an integral part of the instrument payload on the European Space Agency’s ‘ExoMars’ rover, due to launch in 2018.
Krafla volcano last erupted in the 1980’s, forming extensive basaltic lava flows and localised hydrothermal activity. This hydrothermal activity is still ongoing in places, providing acidic hot spring environments for bacteria and archaea that love to thrive in these kind of conditions (‘extremophiles’). Hydorthermal alteration of the surrounding basalt lava has resulted in a wide variety of mineral deposits that are very similar to those on Mars – terrains characterised by phyllosilicates, sulfates, and zeolites. These minerals are known as ‘hydrated’ minerals, and are high-priority targets for Mars exploration as they potentially formed in ancient habitable aqueous environments, and so are good places to look for evidence of past microbial life (if it ever existed..!).
Where are we going?
Krafla lies within the Northern Volcanic Zone in Iceland, sitting right in the middle of the Icelandic rift zone – a surface manifestation of the much bigger Mid Atlantic Ridge. This rift zone is created by two separate tectonic plates slowly spreading apart, leading to magma upwelling and lots of basaltic volcanism. This type of volcanism is similar to what we see on Mars, which combined with its lack of vegetation due to its near-Arctic locality, makes Krafla a great place to conduct remote sensing geology.
This trip is funded by the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Birkbeck; the Geological Remote Sensing Group, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Earth & Space Foundation.