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Ladakh: diverse, high-altitude extreme environments for off-earth analogue and astrobiology research

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2019

Siddharth Pandey*
Mars Society Australia, Clifton Hill, Victoria, Australia Amity Centre of Excellence in Astrobiology, Amity University Mumbai, Mumbai, India Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, Seattle, Washington, USA
Jonathan Clarke
Mars Society Australia, Clifton Hill, Victoria, Australia Australian Centre of Astrobiology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Preeti Nema
Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, Seattle, Washington, USA
Rosalba Bonaccorsi
Space Sciences Division, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, USA SETI Institute, Carl Sagan Center, Mountain View, California, USA
Sanjoy Som
Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, Seattle, Washington, USA
Mukund Sharma
Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, Lucknow, India
Binita Phartiyal
Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, Lucknow, India
Sudha Rajamani
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, PuneIndia
Rakesh Mogul
Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, Seattle, Washington, USA California Polytechnic University, Pomona, California, USA
Javier Martin-Torres
Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering, Luleå University of Technology, Luleå, Sweden Instituto Andaluz de Ciencias de la Tierra (CSIC-UGR), Armilla, Granada, Spain
Parag Vaishampayan
Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, Seattle, Washington, USA
Jennifer Blank
Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, Seattle, Washington, USA Space Sciences Division, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, USA
Luke Steller
Australian Centre of Astrobiology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Anushree Srivastava
The Mars Society, Lakewood, Colorado, USA
Randheer Singh
Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, Lucknow, India
Savannah McGuirk
Mars Society Australia, Clifton Hill, Victoria, Australia Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
María-Paz Zorzano
Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering, Luleå University of Technology, Luleå, Sweden Centro de Astrobiología (INTA-CSIC), Torrejón de Ardoz, Madrid, Spain
Johannes Milan Güttler
Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering, Luleå University of Technology, Luleå, Sweden
Teresa Mendaza
Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering, Luleå University of Technology, Luleå, Sweden
Alvaro Soria-Salinas
Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering, Luleå University of Technology, Luleå, Sweden
Shamim Ahmad
Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, Lucknow, India
Arif Ansari
Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, Lucknow, India
Veeru Kant Singh
Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, Lucknow, India
Chaitanya Mungi
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, PuneIndia
Niraja Bapat
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, PuneIndia
Author for correspondence: Siddharth Pandey, E-mail:


This paper highlights unique sites in Ladakh, India, investigated during our 2016 multidisciplinary pathfinding expedition to the region. We summarize our scientific findings and the site's potential to support science exploration, testing of new technologies and science protocols within the framework of astrobiology research. Ladakh has several accessible, diverse, pristine and extreme environments at very high altitudes (3000–5700 m above sea level). These sites include glacial passes, sand dunes, hot springs and saline lake shorelines with periglacial features. We report geological observations and environmental characteristics (of astrobiological significance) along with the development of regolith-landform maps for cold high passes. The effects of the diurnal water cycle on salt deliquescence were studied using the ExoMars Mission instrument mockup: HabitAbility: Brines, Irradiance and Temperature (HABIT). It recorded the existence of an interaction between the diurnal water cycle in the atmosphere and salts in the soil (which can serve as habitable liquid water reservoirs). Life detection assays were also tested to establish the best protocols for biomass measurements in brines, periglacial ice-mud and permafrost melt water environments in the Tso-Kar region. This campaign helped confirm the relevance of clays and brines as interest targets of research on Mars for biomarker preservation and life detection.

Review Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

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