Early Mars habitability and global cooling by H2-based methanogens

Boris Sauterey, Benjamin Charnay, Antonin Affholder, Stéphane Mazevet, Régis Ferrière

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

During the Noachian, Mars’ crust may have provided a favourable environment for microbial life1,2. The porous brine-saturated regolith3–5 would have created a physical space sheltered from ultraviolet and cosmic radiation and provided a solvent, whereas the below-ground temperature2 and diffusion6,7 of a dense, reduced atmosphere8,9 may have supported simple microbial organisms that consumed H2 and CO2 as energy and carbon sources and produced methane as a waste. On Earth, hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis was among the earliest metabolisms10,11, but its viability on early Mars has never been quantitatively evaluated. Here we present a probabilistic assessment of Mars’ Noachian habitability to H2-based methanogens and quantify their biological feedback on Mars’ atmosphere and climate. We find that subsurface habitability was very likely, and limited mainly by the extent of surface ice coverage. Biomass productivity could have been as high as in the early Earth’s ocean. However, the predicted atmospheric composition shift caused by methanogenesis would have triggered a global cooling event, ending potential early warm conditions, compromising surface habitability and forcing the biosphere deep into the Martian crust. Spatial projections of our predictions point to lowland sites at low-to-medium latitudes as good candidates to uncover traces of this early life at or near the surface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1263-1271
Number of pages9
JournalNature Astronomy
Volume6
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics

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