Volcán Copahue, Argentina

As part of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes instrument development team, one of our goals was to validate Mars-compatible nucleic acid (DNA and RNA) extraction and sequencing protocols in the field. One such expedition was to Volcán Copahue, Argentina, an active volcano harboring natural acid hydrothermal systems likely analogous to Meridiani Planum on early Mars.

We flew Boston to New York City, New York City to Buenos Aires, and Buenos Aires to Neuquén totaling about 20 hours of air travel.

Not pictured is the scramble between airports in Buenos Aires in order to get to Neuquén. We arrived in EZE and had to transfer to AEP for the next leg, we were carrying so much gear that the four of us split between three taxis.

From Neuquén we had another 8 hours of driving ahead of us to reach the town of Copahue-Caviahue (and Volcán Copahue) up in the Andes mountain range. Internet connectivity was expected to be scarce and payments are cold hard cash money.

Welcome to Copahue-Caviahue (note the steaming volcano in the background)!

The area surrounding Copahue-Caviahue is famous for its Araucaria trees that have existed since the Jurassic. Sauropods used to snack on these trees!

 

Driving up to the Volcán Coaphue. We sampled the acid hot springs at the foot of the volcano in order to study the local extremophile communities.

One of the locals mentioned that he had spotted mysterious flying objects zooming in and out of the caldera 🛸 Unfortunately, we never witnessed anything of the sorts. To be honest, I would have probably cried in terror if we did 👽

On the drive back there was an impressive dust storm engulfing the town.

 

All pictures were taken on an iPhone 6s and Pixelmator app (RAW setting).