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Dr Alan Channing

Hot spring environments and ecosystems through time
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My research has taken some interesting twists and turns...

A trip to Yellowstone in winter revealed a novel mechanism of silica precipitation that operates around silica depositing springs at sub-zero temperatures around the globe. Basically, water flows from springs at boiling temperatures, freezes and forms water ice that has a network of microscopic brine-channels in which silica then precipitates forming cryogenic particulate that looks a lot like fossilised microbes. This precipitation mechanism could have been active around ancient hot springs on Mars.

Another unexpected find, a fossil coot (Fulica americana) in ancient hot spring deposits of Yellowstone, pointed to the possibility of vertebrate preservation in hot springs by cast/mould-style preservation formed by silicification of carcass encrusting microbial mats.

A random conversation (about the likelihood of finding plant fossils on volcanic oceanic islands) with Swedish plant systematist Cajsa Lisa Anderson led to a series of exploratory palaeobotanical investigations on the flanks of the volcanoes of the Canary Islands and the discovery of numerous fossil floras dating back to the Miocene.

Unusually high pH water (up to pH 12-13) flowing from lime-kiln waste tips on the Black Mountain in South Wales are creating aprons of calcium carbonate that have morphological and textural similarities with hot spring travertine aprons. I co-supervise a PhD student, Louis Emery, who is investigating how the aprons form and the very special ecosystem associated with the springs.