Cryogenic Minerals in Hawaiian Lava Tubes: A Geochemical and Microbiological Exploration


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The Mauna Loa volcano, on the Island of Hawaii, has numerous young lava tubes. Among them, two at high altitudes are known to contain ice year-round: Mauna Loa Icecave (MLIC) and the Arsia Cave. These unusual caves harbor cold, humid, dark, and biologically restricted environments. Secondary minerals and ice were sampled from both caves to explore their geochemical and microbiological characteristics. The minerals sampled from the deep parts of the caves, where near freezing temperatures prevail, are all multi-phase and consist mainly of secondary amorphous silica SiO2, cryptocrystalline calcite CaCO3, and gypsum CaSO4·2H2O. Based on carbon and oxygen stable isotope ratios, all sampled calcite is cryogenic. The isotopic composition of falls on the global meteoric line, indicating that little evaporation has occurred. The microbial diversity of a silica and calcite deposit in the MLIC and from ice pond water in the Arsia Cave was explored by analysis of ∼50,000 small subunit ribosomal RNA gene fragments via amplicon sequencing. Analyses reveal that the Hawaiian ice caves harbor unique microbial diversity distinct from other environments, including cave environments, in Hawaii and worldwide. Actinobacteria and Proteobacteria were the most abundant microbial phyla detected, which is largely consistent with studies of other oligotrophic cave environments. The cold, isolated, oligotrophic basaltic lava cave environment in Hawaii provides a unique opportunity to understand microbial biogeography not only on Earth but also on other planets.


Exobiology, Lava, North and Central America, United States, Hawaii

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North and Central America; United States; Hawaii

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