Field Site: Ladakh

 

WHY LADAKH?


3Ladakh offers a cold, high altitude (3500m-5500m above sea level), high UV exposed, dry ecosystem with Mars analogue topological features that tell us heaps about the origin and evolution of our planet’s topological features and also about how microbial life has adapted itself to sustain itself in such harsh conditions. Astrobio/geoscientsts would find high passes, permafrost regions, glaciers, hot springs, shallow and palaeo lakes and some of the best high altitude night skies to conduct various types of experiments to help us answer some of the most fundamental questions about ‘life’.

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Environmental Conditions:
  • Arid cold dessert
  • Altitudes above 3000m asl
  • No vegetation; Above tree line
  • Witnesses extremes of temperature
  • Intense frost action
  • Physical weathering pronounced
  • Glacial sediments/saline lakes/hot springs

 

HANLE OBSERVATORY, LEH, LADAKH


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SAMPLING LOCATIONS


 

1Sampling Site – 1 KhardungLa (Permafrost) 

The soils of this high pass (5,305 m) will be compared to those on Mars and sampled for UV resistant microbes.  The permafrost soils will be compared to those on Mars and sampled for UV resistant microbes.  The results will be compared to those of Sites 6, 7 and 16, the site is also an alternative to these sites should they be inaccessible because of weather. Two small relict glaciers near this site may also be accessed, to give insights into martian glacial processes and preservation potential of biomarkers.


2Sampling Site – 2 Tirith, Nubra Valley  

This location is a alluvial fan that shows a complex history of alternating accretion and incision, with good exposures of the fan sediments.  There are many fan deposits known on Mars, which record the history of water activity on the surface.  These observations can be compared against those at site 5.


 

5Sampling Site – 3 Paleolake deposits at Khalsar

This site contains a thick succession of lake sediments formed by tectonic damming of the Shyok river during the Pleistocene.  Characterisation of the lake sediments will assist in the recognition of such deposits on Mars and sampling of the sediments for biomarkers will test equipment that might be used for the search for life on Mars. The results will be compared against those of Site 3.


 

4Sampling Site – 4 Panamik Hot Water Springs

 The waters boil at a temperature of 85 degrees because of the altitude. The hydrothermal fluids ascent though glacial sediments.  The site will be sampled for the geochemistry of the sediments and fluids, for extremophiles, and for biomarkers. The site has been strongly disturbed by human activity. Samples can be compared against those at sites 14 and 11.


3Sampling Site – 5 Hunder Dunes

This small but active dune field is composed of transverse and longitudinal dunes and illustrates, on a small scale the types  of dunes found on Mars.  It will be an opportunity to test rover technology that might one day be sent to the Red Planet. The site also features an alluvial fan so observations can be compared against those at site 2.


 

CaptureSampling Site – 6 WariLa

The permafrost soils of this high pass (5,305 m) will be compared to those on Mars and sampled for UV resistant microbes.  The results will be compared to those of Sites 1, 7 and 16, the site is also an alternative to these sites should they be inaccessible because of weather.


 

CaptureSampling Site – 7 ChangLa

This pass (5,370 m) is the highest elevation that will be encountered on the expedition. The permafrost soils will be compared to those on Mars and sampled for UV resistant microbes.  The results will be compared to those of Sites 1, 6, and 16, the site is also an alternative to these sites should they be inaccessible because of weather.


 

CaptureSampling Site- 8 Tsoltak Lake

 


 

CaptureSampling Site – 9 Durbuk and Tangste Paleolake sections

 This site features locations with thick successions of lake sediments formed by during the Pleistocene.  Characterisation of the lake sediments will assist in the recognition of such deposits on Mars and sampling of the sediments for biomarkers will test equipment that might be used for the search for life on Mars. The results will be compared against those of Site 3.


CaptureSampling Site – 10 Pangong Tso

This deep saline lake freezes in winter and may be an analogue for lakes that may have existed on early Mars.  The modern sediments can be compared with those of ancient lakes at sites 3 and 9. The lake contrasts with shallower lakes such as sites 13 and 15.


CaptureSampling Site – 11 Chumathang hot water spring 

 The waters boil at a temperature of 85 degrees because of the altitude. The hydrothermal fluids ascent though glacial sediments.  The site will be sampled for the geochemistry of the sediments and fluids, for extremophiles, and for biomarkers. Samples can be compared against those at sites 14 and 11.


Sampling Site -12 Sumdo

 

 


CaptureSampling Site – 13 TsoMoriri Lake 

This saline lake freezes in winter and may be an analogue for lakes that may have existed on early Mars.  Its shores are marked by fossil shorelines and a number of alluvial fans.


 

hot-spring-ladakh-winterSampling Site – 14 Puga Valley/Hot Spring

 This is the largest geothermal system in Ladakh.  The waters boil at a temperature of 85 degrees because of the altitude. The springs are rich in boron, and element of interest to astrobiologists and an analogue for the earliest location for terrestrial life, a 3.5 billion year old site in the Pilbara of western Australia.  The area freezes in winter and ice chimneys form round the vents.  The hydrothermal fluids ascent though glacial sediments.  The site will be sampled for the geochemistry of the sediments and fluids, for extremophiles, and for biomarkers. Samples can be compared against those at sites 4 and 11.


CaptureSampling Site – 15 Tsokar lake 

 This highly saline lake freezes in winter and may be an analogue for lakes that may have existed on early Mars.  The lake is fed by springs  Its shores are marked by fossil shorelines and a number of alluvial fans.  The hinterland has well developed permafrost, including possible pingos.  The region was previously glaciated and there are numerous moraines. The modern sediments can be compared with those of ancient lakes at sites 3 and 9.  The lake contrasts with other lakes such as sites 10 and 15.


 CaptureSampling Site – 16 TanglaLa Pass

The soils of this high pass (5,333 m) will be compared to those on Mars and sampled for UV resistant microbes.  The permafrost soils will be compared to those on Mars and sampled for UV resistant microbes.  The results will be compared to those of Sites 1, 6, and 7, the site is also an alternative to these sites should they be inaccessible because of weather.

 


Images from BSIP Survey Team July 2015

 

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(Sampling Location Images Courtesy: Dr. Binita Phartiyal)