Total biomass of mars 20 tons?

I was just browsing through some astronomy magazine and there was a bit on methane and possibly life on mars. Apparently if there was life on mars, to produce the observed gas emmisions it would consist of a total biomass of 20 tons.

As much as i would like to think there is life on mars, this estimate puts that in great doubt.

You could get 20 tons easy even in the driest square mile of the sahara desert, and that's supposed to represent the maximum amount of biology for an entire planet?

Mars isnt a very hospitable place, but i would think that life generaly evolved to fill every niche it can, and unless there is a rational explanation for all that missing methane gas, maybe it's just geological emissions.

a link would be appropriate as i have not heard of such a claim before.

bear in mind, the same astronomy magazines just a short time ago stated that H2O did not exist on mars.

Our understanding of this planet is mutable, and to date, quite limited.

I think it was scientific american or sky and telescope.

Googled this stuff up, that methane signature was only a few parts per billion in an already thin atmosphere. Unless some unknown phenomonon was breaking down the methane faster than normal, no more than 250 tons can be produced per year.

All of it is supposidly no more than the methane expulsion from the gut of 2000 cows.

2 tons biomass would seem to fit, but i just can't believe if life exists on mars at all it would be such a small amount.

first it was no life now its a debate on how much....LOL. Ya gotta love it.

assumptions that living organisms on mars would have metabolic rates anything near equivalent to bacteria in a cow's rumen is idiotic. it easily could be orders of magnitudes off. we need to learn a whole lot more before we start estimating possible biomasses.

"Big claim

The truly eye-opening part is the sheer quantity of formaldehyde that Formisano claims to have found: about 10 to 20 times more than there is of methane. This means that estimates of martian methane production must be revised upwards substantially, as most of the gas is oxidized as soon as it comes out of the ground, he says.

I do believe there is life inside the planet, maybe 50 to 100 metres below the surface, but there is a long way to go to demonstrate that.

Vittorio Formisano
Principal investigator of the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer instrument on Mars Express

"If you consider formaldehyde as oxidized methane, then Mars is producing 2.5 million tonnes of methane a year," says Formisano.

This is simply too much to be accounted for by any known geological process, he says, so some other source (possibly life) must be involved. However, other planetary scientists say the planet alone could still be responsible.

"We don't know the intricacies of [martian] geochemistry," says Rocco Mancinelli, an astrobiologist from NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

Formisano presented his results to a packed session of the Mars Express Science Conference at Noordwijk in the Netherlands on 24 February. "



there's another huge unknown in trying to extrapolate potential biomass figures. extremophiles on earth can completely suspend metabolic processes for extended periods of time until conditions become right again. i think it would be likely that much of the speculated life on mars would exhibit that characteristic- especially any surface or near surface life..

Marsman, re. your #5

Note that it is an Astrobiologist that is quoted as not knowing the intricacies of Martian geochemistry.

Some more info on Formaldehyde:

"In view of the renewed speculation on a past or even contemporary life on Mars, the present Martian atmospheric research programme, represented by the SPICAM atmospheric sounder on Mars express, can
be used to study the different aspects of the Martian environment and their compatibility with life, this interest having been prompted by a Belgian participation in a controversial observation of Martian formaldehyde by the PHOBOS spacecraft in 1989."


"Belgian involvement: the PHOBOS formaldehyde observation.

IASB-BIRA involvement in this question began in 1989 when the PHOBOS mission in orbit around the planet Mars observed a few limb infrared occultation spectra before spacecraft failure. The instrument was
the infrared Russian channel of the Franco-Russian AUGUSTE limb sounder and extensive contacts had been taken since 1987 between IASB-BIRA and the Russian Institute for Space Research IKI the design and interpretation of this channel. The 3.7 µm spectral interval used had been chosen for the detection of HDO in the lower Martian atmosphere and surprisingly showed two peaks which until now can only be identified as formaldehyde. A 1969 telescopic spectrum obtained by JPL was also then interpreted as
containing a formaldehyde structure. This result was published (Korablev et al, 1993)."


"Modelling efforts were made for an explanation: the simplest one being that methane produced in the soil by microorganisms would oxidise to formaldehyde accumulating in the atmosphere in the absence of rain. This mechanism had to be rejected due to the lack of methane observations and the consensus on the
absence of life."




Here is the latest slide show from V. Formisano:




i don't want to downplay the possibility we're close to detecting/concluding that methane producing anaerobes are present on mars - it's huge. the work done by formisano in particular is interesting and important. but a methane producing metabolism certainly isn't the only anoxygenic possibility. one that comes to mind - an iron to hematite metabolism.

Like blito3 said, who cares how much life is there, if there's proven to be any life at all it will be a breakthrough, one that organized religion will have to carefully tip-toe past just like every other thing that was once considered blasphemy but is now considered fact (age of the Earth/universe, orbiting around the sun, evolution, genetics, how old people live to be, the fact that Noah would have had to put 7 pairs of several million species on his ark, etc. etc. etc.). I wager though that the truly faithful will find some way to dodge the bullet.. those darn people who actually go out and try to LOOK at things!

I would like there to be life too. I just thought that if the gas emissions tied into a really small biomass estimate, i would tend to think it more likely it's some fumerole or non biotic gas emission.

The methane if just by photo disintegration has a lifespan of a few hundred years, than the amount of gas emission would be small.

There is some speculation about dust devils and electricity disintegrating the methane immidietly after it forms.

Funny thing is, this reaction also might seem to create the superoxides that rain down on the surface.

Some have speculated that the blueberries seen by opportunity might be actualy living things. If they were i would think hundreds of square miles of blueberries stretching to the horizon would indicate a biomass biger than 2 tons.

There ought to be a real big spike of methane and formeldahyde right over where opportunity is, if there's life there.

Hi mccooney, re. your #12. The superoxides raining down on Mars is a theoretical construct, designed to explain the conflicting results of the Viking LR and GCM experiments. As far as I can see, No actual superoxides have ever been demonstrated on the surface of Mars.

Re: 12.. that's making an assumption that (if blueberries are living) they have a methane producing anaerobic metabolic process. given the fact that they contain hematite, it may suggest that it's something entirely different.

if methane is oxidizing so readily then that needs to be explored/explained (assuming the formaldehyde is real). an abundance of superoxides would have to be a possibility (but then what process might be creating/renewing the abundance of those?). there are methane oxidizing microbes btw. hmmm - so maybe the viking data confusion and the high rate of methane oxidization could be linked? and would the viking data best be explained by a combination of microbes and superoxides?.. way too many questions and no answers - yet...

The Viking data could best be explained by the fact that the GCM equipment was not sensitive enough to detect small concentrations of Organic chemicals.

the conflicts and confusion in the viking data are also present in the LR, GEX and PR experiments. if the soil contained both an abundance of oxidizing agents and microbes, it may better explain the set of results seen in those experiments. arguments from either side (oxidizing/chemical vs microbial) of the two possible viking conclusions have always had problems (forced to discount some data to draw a conclusion). also it was argued (esp back in the 70's) that superoxides (if they existed) would sterilize the soil. that's not necessarily true as we've since discovered many earth anaerobes produce enzymes that protect them from oxidizing agents.. anyway - it's interesting to me that the viking results might actually tie neatly into this microbial methane hypothesis.

This is a very good line of conversation and the basics are unsettled and unfinished, even unthought of as yet, in many of the technical potentials for energy conversion and material construction versus the Earthly routines of metabolism, respiration, transpiration, nutrient broths, and a hundred other wasteful and spurious actions we engage in here where these items are easy to come by. My point is that we are built to process the things that are here and the routine on Mars is that such things are not much available there. The processes would follow the paths available as a few above are suggesting. Some Earthly similarities are sure to be built into even a mutually tranferred or samely originating biological group there on Mars. Refinement of processes would not lead to a large throughput of material as we are accustomed to here where the availability is large. Martians would be following the path found on Mars, for the period of time they were on Mars, perhaps billions of years, depending on the time and possibility of transfer from a source.

If we follow the analogies as suggested by the logic used in the formulae discussed in the article presented by mcooney in his first topic entry which states that the methane is calculated by the quantities released by Earth microbes in the guts of cows(hold your breathe for the unbearable obnoxious answer, I hear it's terrible), and apply equally the opinions of the experts in other articles requiring that we expect the size of the organisms to correspond to the feeding chain as a size limitation, then we have a greatly more favorable figure of hundreds of millions of very tiny cows spread all over the equatorial zone of Mars, making large herds in most favorable locations, allowing for both figures to be correct, and herds to be grazed with the tiny 'mosses' or 'grasses' which are seen growing between the soil particles at the size range of soil particles, giving all a rest from adjustments in the calculations. While this may seem a challenge to some, it is a true estimate by myself based on the items I observed in the photos and the suggestion that cows guts be the turnover factor in judging the quantities. Perhaps the experts can cover me by explaining how a bubbling water filled caldron of Earth bacteria can live on Mars climate and atmosphere and still turnover the same rate with the water and nutrients available there. I haven't seen tiny cows as yet, but the grazing fields are in the MI's and are very substantial. If the items are moss or grass then the production of oxygen should be higher on Mars. The conversion may not be a standard photosynthesis process.
I have read the article and I support the release of information giving confidence to those of us who seeing items which cannot be non-living processes, even though we have no supportive instrument readings favoring life as yet. Methane and CO2. Hydrogen and iron. Acids and salts. Sounds too simple to be life as yet. Nitrogen and phosphorus, peroxides and formaldehyde. A small amount of water and related fluids. Getting warmer but still too simple. Perhaps these items just don't waste a lot of what they don't have available. Perhaps the next machine will be able sniff out the missing parts.

hey dana - yup - we'll have to wait for the biologists turn to create a rover and answer a lot of these questions. i wouldn't be surprised at all if it's esa that steps to the forefront in this area. with our improved knowledge of earth life forms - extremophiles that have specialized and adapted cellular functions and metabolisms to cope with harsh environments - we're certain to have far better bio activity equipment on board when the time comes. and methane detection, while interesting and an indication that earthlike anaerobic metabolisms are perhaps present, certainly falls short as an indicator of the wide ranging life forms that could be exist in a mars environment.. on oxygen - it is a small percent of the mars atmosphere - but it is available and being replenished thru some yet to be determined process. i think we sometimes forget that even small quantities can be enough to support very large ecosystems. the co2 in earth's atmosphere isn't dissimilar from the concentrations of o2 on mars. it certainly supports a huge amount of life here.. oh well - i'm digressing.. but in the mean time - keep looking for the micro-cows..

Summary about the Methane / Fomaldehyde findings: