Microbial trace-fossil formation, biogenous, and abiotic weathering in the Antarctic cold desert

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  08 May 1987:
Vol. 236, Issue 4802, pp. 703-705
DOI: 10.1126/science.11536571


In the Antarctic cold desert (Ross Desert), the survival of the cryptoendolithic microorganisms that colonize the near-surface layer of porous sandstone rocks depends on a precarious equilibrium of biological and geological factors. An unfavorable shift of this equilibrium results in death, and this may be followed by formation of trace fossils that preserve the characteristic iron-leaching pattern caused by microbial activity. Similar microbial trace fossil may exist in the geological record. If life ever arose on early Mars, similar processes may have occurred there and left recognizable traces.