Abiotic Nitrous Oxide Production From Sediments and Brine of Don Juan Pond, Wright Valley Antarctica, at Mars Analog Temperatures (−40°C)

Charles A. Schutte, Vladimir A. Samarkin, Marshall W. Bowles, Brian Peters, Karen L. Casciotti, Michael T. Madigan, Samantha B. Joye

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

Abstract

The presence of biogenic gases such as oxygen, methane, and nitrous oxide (N2O) in the atmospheres of extraterrestrial bodies has been postulated as a biosignature of life. Abiotic N2O production was documented recently in Don Juan Pond (DJP), Antarctica, a cold, hypersaline Mars analog environment. Here we quantify the temperature-driven kinetics of abiotic N2O production and combine this with stable isotope labeling to demonstrate that N2O is produced from DJP sediment and brine at Mars-analog temperatures down to at least −40°C. Further, we show that at any given temperature, N2O production is controlled by the availability of reduced Fe-bearing minerals rather than nitrate. We conclude that abiotic N2O production is possible on Mars and on other extraterrestrial bodies and exoplanets. Thus, the presence of atmospheric N2O on these bodies should not be taken by itself as an indicator of microbial life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021GL094635
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Volume49
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 16 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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