Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr. Nathalie Cabrol
Dr. Nathalie Cabrol is a planetary scientist and explorer currently working with the SETI institute.
Born near Paris, she spent her childhood fascinated with the world above her head and the world below her feet. She pursued her interest in science and gained a degree in Earth Sciences at Nanterre University, but was soon hooked on planetary science when a professor showed her maps of Mars in the mid 1980s. Cabrol gained her Masters and P.h.D from Sorbonne, and while she was a P.h.D student, she became interested in the formation of lakes on Mars—an area that very few scientists were talking of at the time.
In 1994, Cabrol took up a postdoctoral position at NASA. She was influential in arguing for Gusev Crater to be the landing site of the Mars Spirit Rover, on the basis that it may have housed water billions of years ago—and sure enough, Spirit found traces of ancient salty water in the rocks.
Now a senior research scientist at SETI—the search for extraterrestrial intelligence—as well a member of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Team, Cabrol is focused on searching for evidence for life in the solar system, especially Mars. She is currently looking for signs of subsurface life, but while she uses evidence from the Mars rovers in her work, she also uses a lot of evidence from here on Earth, by studying extreme terrestrial environments that may be similar to the Martian environment billions of years ago. The Andes are especially pertinent to her research, as the elevated lakes are exposed to high UV radiation—in fact, her expeditions to one of the highest lakes in the world, atop 20,000-foot volcano Licancabur in South America, have uncovered new microbial and zooplankton species, and she’s planning further research in the Arctic, Antarctic, and Australia.
Cabrol is also currently leading the Planetary Lake Lander project, which is developing strategies to explore the lakes of Titan and to monitor the impact of melting glaciers on the biodiversity in the Chilean Andes. These results are also expected to give insight into the potential of lie on Mars.
According to Cabrol, exploring Mars and its environment is vitally important because it can act as a warning sign, showing us the potential future of Earth.