British Columbia, Canada is famous for its freshwater lakes, and two in particular are proving to be of particular interest to scientists interested in learning about life on other planets.
Pavilion Lake and Kelly Lake, located about 250 kilometers from Vancouver, are full of microbialites: carbonate structures that form in water with the help of microorganisms. Most current examples of microbialites are found in harsh environments that don’t support other life forms; all other microbialites studied so far are in fossil form. These lakes are not only non-extreme environments that provide excellent research opportunities, they have an amazing diversity of microbialite structures.
Learning more about the microbialites in these lakes will teach us more about the biogeochemical processes that were active during Earth’s early history and potentially on other planets such as Mars. The lakes are also Mars analogues in another way: exploring them requires specialized equipment and life support systems. Scientists are using a combination of human explorers and robotic equipment to gather data (e.g., SCUBA, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and submersibles).
The GetMapper project is where you come in. Researchers need your help in tagging the many photos they have of the lake bottoms. All you need to do is register for an account, take a quick tutorial, and then choose the tags that best describe what you’re seeing. The site is thoroughly gamified, and you can compete, earn points and unlock achievement badges based on your work. You’ll be in good company: since the project opened, more than 1 million photos have been tagged.