Borup Fiord Pass in Canadian arctic helping find alien life

Jordan Chittley
Daily Brew

A location in northern Canada is helping scientists prepare instruments to discover if there is life on Jupiter's moon, Europa.

Borup Fiord Pass in the Canadian High Arctic is a yellowish, sulphur-stained patch of ice and snow on Ellesmere Island that is inhabited by bacteria. Because bacteria can survive in this climate and because Europa is similar to Borup, scientists believe the moon could hold alien life and are eager to send a mission.

But before rovers can be sent to distant planets and moons, they need to be tested on Earth. Ice and sulphur don't co-exist in many places on Earth and that's why Borup Fiord Pass is a good testing facility. According to, the Pass even looks similar to Europa.

"The best analogue we have for what could be going on at Europa," said Geological Survey of Canada scientist Steve Grasby to Postmedia News. The more they learn about the geochemistry on Ellesmere Island, the better they will be able to design a mission to search for life on Jupiter's moon.

"We have discovered that elemental sulphur can contain morphological, mineralogical and organic 'biosignatures' linked to bacterial activity," said Damhnait Gleeson, lead author of a study published in the Astrobiology journal and currently a member of the Centro de Astrobiologia in a Daily Galaxy article. "If they are found on Europa, this would suggest the possible presence of microorganisms."

Grasby and Gleeson were two of the scientists who first went to Borup in 2006 to begin tests.

The site on Ellesmere Island isn't the only one in Canada being studied to help scientists detect alien life.

The Haughton meteorite crater on Devon Island is being used for a Mars-related research project.

Also in 2010, Canadian scientists discovered a species of unique, methane-eating microbes living in a salty spring on Nunavut's Axel Heiberg Island. The sub-zero water is so salty that it doesn't freeze, but there is no oxygen. Methane and frozen water have both been discovered on Mars.

"If you have a situation where you have very cold salty water, it could potentially support a mircrobial community, even in that extreme harsh environment," said McGill University microbiologist Dr. Lyle Whyte in a article.

The spring is similar to possible present or past springs on Mars, meaning there may be life on the red planet in addition to Europa.

(NASA photo of Sulphur-rich stains blanketing the white snowy glacier taken by Stephen Grasby)