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A Lake That Looks Like Mars

To see what extraterrestrial life might be like, scientists are busy studying freshwater coral reef–like structures in a Canadian lake

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IMMERSED IN THE PAST:

To venture below the surface of Pavilion Lake is to take a trip back in time to observe Earth's earliest life forms. The finger-shaped 3.7-mile- (six-kilometer-) long freshwater lake in British Columbia, Canada, is riddled with reeflike structures called microbialites that form from microbes and minerals interacting over thousands of years.....[ More ]

THROWBACKS:

No other place on Earth boasts the diverse array of microbialite structures found at Pavilion Lake. They take the shape of everything from large florets of cauliflower to chimneylike stalagmites. Although these structures only started forming 11,000 years ago when the Cordilleran Ice Sheet retreated from the area, they are believed to be a modern day version of the early Cambrian reefs that flourished on Earth 540 million years ago.....[ More ]

DEEP WORK:

Over the past few weeks a team of researchers from the Canadian Space Agency ( http://www.space.gc.ca/asc/eng/default.asp ), NASA, the University of British Columbia, McMaster University and Nuytco Research ( http://www.nuytco.com/ ) have clocked over 90 hours combing over the lake's bottom using two DeepWorker 2000 ( http://www.nuytco.com/products/subs.shtml ) single-person submersibles.....[ More ]

SECLUDED SCIENCE:

Pavilion Lake, which is part of Marble Canyon Provincial Park, is found 260 miles (420 kilometers) northeast of Vancouver in the interior of British Columbia. Its unique freshwater formations have been known to locals and divers for years, but they didn't come to the scientific community’s attention until 1997.....[ More ]

SONIC COLOR:

Since 1997, the lake has been studied and explored by scuba divers, sonar readings and robotic subs. In this sonar of the lake floor, hard surfaces like rocks and microbialites appear green. The blue areas are made of softer mud or sediment.....[ More ]

BARGING IN:

The barge here acts as the subs' mobile garage. The two 1.75 ton DeepWorker submersibles are hand cranked into and out of the water from this custom-built wooden barge every day--which docks at night.....[ More ]

ASTRODIVER:

Here NASA Astronaut Mike Gernhardt ( http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/gernhard.html ) is lowered into the water in one of the DeepWorker 2000 submersibles. Gernhardt is a commercial diver–turned-astronaut.....[ More ]

ULTRA-BOT:

Each submarine is armed with a high-definition video camera and a manipulator arm--seen extended [ left ]--that can snip off samples of the microbialites and bring them to the surface. In the right corner is the UBC Gavia, a UAV robot that has been studying the lake since 2006.....[ More ]

WINTER SHIFT:

One of the strengths of the UBC Gavia is that it can operate in extreme environments. Here it is being deployed in frozen-over Pavilion Lake during the winter months to map the lake floor in preparation for the submarine flights.....[ More ]

EXTRATERRESTRIAL EARTH:

McMaster's Greg Slater has also been busy taking samples of the microbialites and lake water in an effort to figure out how on earth these structures formed in the first place, and which compounds act as an indicator for them.....[ More ]

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