Asphalt Volcanism as a Model to Understand the Geochemical Nature of Pitch Lake, a Planetary Analog for Titan and the Implications towards Methane Flux into Earth's Atmosphere.
Pitch Lake is located in the southwest peninsula of the island near La Brea in Trinidad and Tobago, covering an area of approximately 46 hectares. It was discovered in the year 1595 and is the largest of three natural asphalt lakes that exist on Earth. Pitch Lake is a large oval shaped reservoir composed of dominantly hydrocarbon compounds, but also includes minor amounts of clay and muddy water. It is a natural liquid asphalt desert, which is nourished by a form of petroleum consisting of mostly asphaltines from the surrounding oil-rich region. The hydrocarbons mix with mud and gases under high pressure during upward seepage, and the lighter portion evaporates or is volatilized, which produces a high-viscosity liquid asphalt residue. The residue on and near the surface is a hydrocarbon matrix, which poses extremely challenging environmental conditions to microorganisms characterized by an average low water activity in the range of 0.49 to 0.75, recalcitrant carbon substrates, and toxic chemical compounds. Nevertheless, an active microbial community of archaea and bacteria, many of them novel strains, was found to inhabit the liquid hydrocarbon matrix of Pitch Lake. Geochemical analyses of minerals, done by our team, which revealed sulfates, sulfides, silicates, and metals, normally associated with deep-water hydrothermal vents leads to our new hypothetical model to describe the origins of Pitch Lake and its importance to atmospheric and earth sciences. Pitch Lake is likely the terrestrial equivalent of an offshore submarine asphalt volcano just as La Brea Tar Pits are in some ways an on-land version of the asphalt volcanoes discovered off shore of Santa Barbara by Valentine et al. in 2010. Asphalt volcanism possibly also creates the habitat for chemosynthetic life that is widespread in this lake, as reported by Schulze-Makuch et al. in 2011 and Meckenstock et al. in 2014.
AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts
- Pub Date:
- December 2016
- 4558 Sediment transport;
- OCEANOGRAPHY: PHYSICALDE: 6281 Titan;
- PLANETARY SCIENCES: SOLAR SYSTEM OBJECTSDE: 6295 Venus;
- PLANETARY SCIENCES: SOLAR SYSTEM OBJECTSDE: 5405 Atmospheres;
- PLANETARY SCIENCES: SOLID SURFACE PLANETS