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The Qaidam Basin as a Planetary Analog  

Jiannan Zhao, Yutong Shi, and Long Xiao

Analog study is a convenient and effective way to understand the geomorphic features and geological processes of other planets. The Qaidam Basin, an intramontane basin in the northeastern Tibetan Plateau, northwest China, is a new and unique Mars analog study site. The basin hosts the highest and one of the driest deserts on the Earth, and its environment is characterized as cold, arid, of high altitude, of high UV radiation, and of high soil salinity. A variety of landforms that are comparable to those on the Martian surface have been identified, such as dunes, yardangs, valleys, gullies, lakes, and playas, providing opportunities to study the formation and evolution of similar Martian geomorphic features. Aqueous minerals including chlorides, sulfates, carbonates, and phyllosilicates are concentrated in the saline lakes and playas of the basin. Analog studies on the mineral assemblages of the Qaidam playas and Martian paleolakes and playas will help researchers better understand the hydrological environment and climate of the ancient Mars. The extreme environment of the Qaidam Basin also makes it an ideal site for astrobiological study. Detection of biomarkers and the isolation of microorganisms in the basin could provide clues for the search for life and a habitable environment on Mars. In addition, the accessibility of the Qaidam Basin makes the basin a potential testing ground for instruments and study methods to be used in future Mars missions.