Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Geosciences

Committee Chair

Nancy Hinman

Commitee Members

Jill Scott, Julia Baldwin, James Sears, Michael DeGrandpre, Carrine Blank


Basalt, Biosignatures, Europa, FTICRMS, Mars


University of Montana


With the discovery of Na-sulfate minerals (thenardite, mirabilite) on Mars and Europa, recent studies using these minerals have focused on their ability to assist in the detection of biosignatures. On Earth, biotic and biotic processes can assist in the formation and deposition of these minerals. A primary objective of these studies is the detection of bio/organic compounds that may be associated with the mineral. These biosignatures would imply biological involvement during mineral formation. The following research presents a series of natural and synthetic investigations to determine if biological activity is associated with Na-sulfate mineralization, and if these minerals can assist in detecting bio/organic compounds. Evidence for biological activity associated with the formation of Na-sulfate deposits in the basaltic subsurface of Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho was examined by laser desorption Fourier transform mass spectrometry (LD-FTMS), infrared spectroscopy and sulfur isotopic fractionation. These experiments show that bio/organic compounds are likely associated with the secondary Na-sulfate minerals, suggesting biological involvement in the mineralization of these deposits. LD-FTMS results of the synthetic bio/organic-mineral combinations show the potential of Na-sulfate minerals to assist in the detection and identification of bio/organic compounds. These results prove the importance of Na-sulfate minerals for future exploration missions that are likely to use LDMS to search for signs of life in the solar system.



© Copyright 2010 Charles Doc Richardson