a1 Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, Cardiff University, Wales, UK
Ices in the Martian polar caps are potential habitats for various species of microorganisms. Salts in the ice and biological anti-freeze polymers maintain liquid in cracks in the ices far below 0°C, possibly down to the mean 220–240 K. Sub-surface microbial life is shielded from ultraviolet (UV) radiation, but could potentially be activated on south-facing slopes under the midday, midsummer Sun. Such life would be limited by low levels of vapour, little transport of nutrients, low light levels below a protective dirt-crust, frost accumulation at night and in shadows, and little if any active translocation of organisms. As in the Antarctic and in permafrost, movement to new habitats depends on geo-climatic changes, which for Mars's north polar cap occur on a 50 000 year scale, except for rare meteorite impacts.
(Received September 02 2008)
(Accepted March 23 2009)
(Online publication April 27 2009)
1 Poster paper at the Astrobiology Society of Britain Conference, Cardiff, July 2008.