Study of Electrical potential, Remote sensing, and Preservation of biosignatures at sites of serpentinization (SERP)

Lay Summary 

Dr. Penny Morrill, associate professor in the Department of Earth Sciences has received funding from the Canadian Space Agency to study electrical potential, remote sensing, and preservation of biosignatures at serpentinization sites.


Serpentinization occurs when groundwater flows through ultramafic rock. It reacts, creating a texture similar to the skin of a snake as well as water chemistry with very high pH values. This extreme environment is inhospitable to most forms of life. However, some life is capable of surviving these sites and there is evidence that serpentinization may have happened on Mars or Saturn's moon, Enceladus.


Since serpentinization happens in the subsurface, it's difficult to find sites to study. The goal of Dr. Morrill’s project is to develop remote sensing and subsurface methods to help identify more of these sites.


Visual clues, such as the absence of plant life, can show up on satellite or drone images. Partner researchers will also test the ability of near-infrared spectroscopy to detect the specific types of minerals found in the rocks around these springs.


The research team will not just be looking at spring sites from above. They are also developing methods for imaging the subsurface using magnetic and electrical methods. Serpentinization can produce “magnetite,” and the subsurface fluid pathways of two known springs show up in magnetic surveys.  


More information about this project can be found here.


Adapted from:

Earth Sciences
Physics and Physical Oceanography
Canadian Space Agency Flights and Fieldwork for the Advancement of Science and Technology
Gros Morne National Park
Newfoundland and Labrador
Start date 
1 Jan 2019
Support Organization 
Spatial Data Management