The Sulfur Cycle in a Permanently Meromictic Haloalkaline Lake


Soap Lake is a haloalkaline lake located in central Washington. This lake is a remnant of the Missoula flood events that created the landscape of western Montana, the southeastern portion of Washington state, and much of Oregon. It is 15,000 - 20,000 years old, and has maintained a stable meromixis for the last 10,000 years. This carbonate lake is characterized by a brackish mixolimnion, and a monimolimnion with a salinity of ~14%. The pH of both layers of the lake is approximately 10. Both layers also have a high concentration of dissolved sulfate, with the mineral mirabilite (Na2SO4·10H2O) found in the monimolimnion sediments. Sulfide concentrations in the monimolimnion exceed 100 mM. as part of the mission of the NSF Soap Lake Microbial Observatory, microorganisms involved in the sulfur cycle in this lake were studied in terms of their diversity and function. High rates of sulfate reduction were measured in both layers of the lake, with new species of sulfate-reducing bacteria seen in both areas. a particularly novel psychrophilic sulfur oxidizer was isolated from the monimolimnion. This organism has the ability to induce the formation of mirabilite, which was assumed to be an abiotically deposited evaporite mineral. This is the first evidence for a biogenic origin of this mineral. This leads to the possibility that related sulfate minerals, such as those reported on the Mars surface, may have a biogenic origin.

Meeting Name

SPIE Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology IX (2006: Sep. 5, 2006)


Biological Sciences

Geographic Coverage

Soap Lake, Washington

Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version


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© 2006 SPIE -- The International Society for Optical Engineering, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Sep 2006