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Rock Varnish: Nature’s Shield

  • Amritpal Singh Chaddha*
    Amritpal Singh Chaddha
    Geochemistry Lab, Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, 53 University Road, Lucknow 226007, India
    Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, University of Lucknow, Lucknow 226007, India
    *Email: [email protected]
  • Anupam Sharma*
    Anupam Sharma
    Geochemistry Lab, Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, 53 University Road, Lucknow 226007, India
    *Email: [email protected]
  • Narendra Kumar Singh
    Narendra Kumar Singh
    Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, University of Lucknow, Lucknow 226007, India
  • Devendra Kumar Patel
    Devendra Kumar Patel
    Analytical Chemistry, Regulatory Toxicology Group, CSIR-Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow 226001, India
  • , and 
  • G. N. V. Satyanarayana
    G. N. V. Satyanarayana
    Analytical Chemistry, Regulatory Toxicology Group, CSIR-Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow 226001, India
Cite this: ACS Earth Space Chem. 2023, 7, 8, 1516–1527
Publication Date (Web):July 21, 2023
https://doi.org/10.1021/acsearthspacechem.3c00071
Copyright © 2023 American Chemical Society

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    Abstract

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    Bare rock surfaces in dry to semiarid places of the world often host a black-brown accretion rich in Mn and Fe known as rock varnish. The varnish surface presents an ideal environment for microbial development. A burgeoning interdisciplinary arena of scholarship focuses on the biogeochemical fingerprints of life in severe settings. Given that a large number of researchers hypothesize that varnish formation is a key process by microorganisms, the high altitude Ladakh remains a largely unexplored research setting. Thus, as one of the world’s harshest dry deserts, we selected Ladakh as the focus for this investigation into the nature of organic biomarkers found in subaerial rock varnish in this severe climate. Microbial fingerprinting using organic biomarkers and isotopic analyses in conjunction with electron microscopy reveals the presence of organic metabolites such as fatty acids, alkyl benzenes, oxime, amide, and fatty acids that we interpret as resulting from mineral–microbial interactions. We hypothesize that a newly discovered change in surface wettability characteristics from hydrophilic (in host rock) to hydrophobic (in varnish) might be important in facilitating the development of microbial processes that could be related to varnish formation.

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    The Supporting Information is available free of charge at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsearthspacechem.3c00071.

    • Supporting figures and tables (PDF)

    • Data S1: GC-MS/MS matched library data for varnish samples (PDF)

    • Movie S1: Visual displaying simple drop retention test for testing surface wettability on rock varnish and host rock surface (MP4)

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