Scientists study Turkey’s Lake Salda to help find life on Mars

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Lake Salda is also known as “Turkey’s Maldives” with its pristine blue waters and coast, but scientists hope there might be more than beauty the lake offers. Researchers from Istanbul Technical University (ITÜ) recently concluded a study supported by the Ministry of Environment, Urban Planning and Climate Change in the lake in the western province of Burdur. The study on Lake Salda‘s microbial biology aims to shed further light on similarities between it and somewhere literally worlds away: Mars.

The study will serve as a reference for future studies of samples brought from Mars by NASA missions.

The lake with a special preservation status is a popular destination but shot to global fame when NASA shared its photos on its social media account, likening it to the Jezero Crater in Mars it sent its Perseverance Rover last year.

Turkish scientists launched a study last June to determine microbial ecology through advanced molecular methods and map the geomicrobiological features of the lake. Beyhan Oktar, deputy director of the Ministry of Environment, Urban Planning and Climate Change’s General Directorate for Protection of Natural Assets, said the study will help in building an important database for the search for life on Mars. “The study focused on similarities of rocks in the lake and Mars and also finding new species if any. Researchers ran DNA-based analysis and developed important DNA gene sequences related to the lake here. Once Perseverance returns to Earth, results of its work will be compared with the findings of the study in Salda,” Oktar told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Thursday.

She added that they collected samples both from the lake and its perimeters. “Researchers discovered crucial findings especially on the development of microbialites and this will also serve preservation efforts for the lake,” she explained.

Lake Salda is among the places facing drought threats in Turkey amid the climate crisis. Its increasing popularity also raises concerns about the human-made negative impacts on the lake. Authorities have restricted access to some spots in and around the lake and seek to restrict the number of visitors (more than 1 million annually).

Earlier studies of the lake by a scientist who worked at the Perseverance mission and in cooperation with ITÜ researchers had revealed similarities between Salda and Jezero in terms of carbonate minerals and depositional features.

Researchers had found earlier watershed minerals and possibly carbonate along the margins of Jezero, a sign of a possible existence of an ancient lake on the crater. Lighter sediments around Lake Salda are also viewed as key for the search of evidence for life at the crater, which was likely home to a river delta some 3.5 billion years ago. The lake on Earth is also among the places with the oldest known fossilized life, microbes in water.

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