2008 Annual Science Report

SETI Institute Reporting  |  JUL 2007 – JUN 2008

The High Lakes Project (HLP)

Project Summary

The High Lakes Project is a multi-disciplinary astrobiological investigation studying high-altitude lakes between 4,200 m and 5,916 m elevation in the Central Andes of Bolivia and Chile. Its primary objective is to understand the impact of increased environmental stress on lake habitats and their evolution during rapid climate change as an analogy to early Mars. Their unique geophysical environment and mostly uncharted ecosystems have added new objectives to the project, including the assessment of the impact of low ozone/high solar irradiance in non-polar aquatic environments, the documentation of poorly known ecosystems, and the quantification of the impact of climate change on lake environment and ecosystem.
Data from 2003 to 2007 show that solar irradiance is 165% that of sea level with instantaneous UV-B flux reaching 17W/m2. Short UV wavelengths (260-270 nm) were recorded and peaked at 14.6 mW/m2. High solar irradiance occurs in an atmosphere permanently depleted in ozone falling below ozone hole definition for 33-36 days and between 30-35% depletion the rest of the year. The impact of strong UV-B and UV erythemally-weighted daily dose on life is compounded by broad daily temperature variations with sudden and sharp fluctuations. Lake habitat chemistry is highly dynamical with notable changes in yearly ion concentrations and pH resulting from low and variable yearly precipitation. The year-round combination of environmental variables define these lakes as end-members. In such an environment, they host surprisingly abundant and diverse ecosystems including a significant fraction of previously undescribed species of zooplankton, cyanobacterial, and bacterial populations.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

Nathalie Cabrol- In 2007, HLP focused on lakes located in the Chilean altiplano. Activities : (1) the retrieval of data from our Eldonet UV station, the retrieval of the station, and the positioning of a short UV wavelength dosimeter at the summit of the Simba (volcano); (2) the exploration of new investigation sites, including Laguna Lejia and Laguna Aguas Calientes; (3) Data analysis and interpretation; (4) Presentation of results at the NASA Astrobiology conference in Santa Clara, and the preparation of a special issue on HLP for the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences.

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