Search Ames


Mission Archives

Text Size

Mono Lake, Calif. (NASA Ames participation)

Mono Lake in California is nearly 700,000 years old, making it one of the oldest lakes in North America. Throughout its long existence, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams, but there is no outlet. Fresh water evaporating leaves behind salts and minerals so that now Mono Lake is about two-and-one-half times as salty and 80 times as alkaline as the ocean.

Although Mono Lake is an extreme environment for life, it hosts a thriving ecosystem. There are no fish, but the lake supports trillions of brine shrimp (which feed vast numbers of nesting and migrating birds) and a bizarre variety of scuba-diving alkaline flies. It is also brimming with microorganisms such as diatoms, cyanobacteria and filamentious algae.

"The geology of the Mono Basin reminds me of many old martian lake beds," said Jack Farmer (formerly of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.), a geobiologist at Arizona State University. "Current conditions on the martian surface are hostile to life, but there might be a fossil record of ancient microorganisms if we look in the right places."

"Take Gusev Crater for example. It's a basin on Mars formed by an impact more than 3.5 billion years ago. Water flowed in through channels in a huge canyon called Ma'adim Vallis, but there was no outlet. It was an evaporative lake site."

Media contact:

John Bluck
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Phone: 650-604-5026

Key Mission People
Chris McKay, scientist, NASA Ames Research Center.

Nathalie Cabrol of the SETI Institute, Mountain View, Calif., and the NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. Cabrol served as the science leader for the Astronaut-Rover Interaction for Planetary Surface Exploration (ASRO) experiment, the four-day primary science mission was conducted Feb. 22-25, 1999, in the Mojave Desert, east of Los Angeles.

Related links:

Mono Lake home page:

May 13, 2004
Extreme Ecosystem --
Microbiologists have found a community of extreme-loving microbes working together to survive at the bottom of California's strange Mono Lake.

Oct. 7, 2003
The Goldilocks Zone –
. . . NASA scientists Richard Hoover and Elena Pikuta . . . . announced a new species of extreme-loving microorganism, Tindallia californiensis, found in California's Mono Lake.

June 11, 1999
Unearthing clues to martian fossils –
The hunt for signs of ancient life on Mars leads scientists to Mono Lake, Calif.

Related images: