Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Chemistry

Committee Chair

Garon C. Smith

Commitee Members

Christopher Palmer, Jesse V. Johnson


biomat, biosignature, carbon dioxide, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, FTIR, geothermal spring, hot spring, organic acid


University of Montana


A primary discipline of astrobiology is the search for life outside of the earth’s ecosystem. Detecting biosignatures in outer space is one way this search is conducted. To understand the biosignatures to look for and study in space, it is useful to gain a better understanding of life in diverse environments on earth. This research tested the hypothesis that chemicals characteristic of microbial life can be detected and quantified in air above hot springs with Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). The stated hypothesis was refuted, as no chemicals of uniquely biological origin were detected with FTIR. A discussion of why no uniquely biological chemicals were detected with FTIR is presented. An analysis of chemicals seen in the infrared spectra, such as CO2, is given in the context of their possible biological origin. The results of the CO2 analysis indicate that the naturally occurring biomats are more complex than laboratory cultures and that the observable results of the behaviors of the two groups cannot be directly related. Lastly, other data collected (water chemistry and weather data for the springs) and the results of water analysis (ion chromatography and total organic carbon) are summarized. Acetate, propionate, and formate were present in some springs at low levels, indicating chemically the presence of microbial activity.

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© Copyright 2006 Ryan M. Murray