Rio Tinto in southern Spain has become of increasing astrobiological significance, in particular for its similarity to environments on early Mars. We present evidence of tubular structures from sampled terraces in the stream bed at the source of the river, as well as ancient, now dry, terraces. This is the first reported finding of tubular structures in this particular environment. We propose that some of these structures could be formed through self-assembly via an abiotic mechanism involving templated precipitation around a fluid jet, a similar mechanism to that commonly found in so-called chemical gardens. Laboratory experiments simulating the formation of self-assembling iron oxyhydroxide tubes via chemical garden/chemobrionic processes form similar structures. Fluid-mechanical scaling analysis demonstrates that the proposed mechanism is plausible. Although the formation of tube structures is not itself a biosignature, the iron mineral oxidation gradients across the tube walls in laboratory and field examples may yield information about energy gradients and potentially habitable environments.
- Received June 10, 2016.
- Accepted October 5, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.