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Microbialites just below the surface at Deadman's Point in Green Lake, NY

Discover and describe freshwater microbialites

Welcome to our site about our work on freshwater microbialites. This is a journey of discovery and we are looking for some natural wonders in lakes that are ancient and beautiful living organisms.


What are microbialites?

Microbialites are fascinating and beautiful living carbonate rock structures.  Somewhat similar to coral formations and stromatolites, these freshwater microbialites are rare on today's Earth.

These fantastical structures are believed to be formed by bacteria and algae and can be up to 10m high and over 10,000 years old.

How long have they been on Earth?

Microbialites were very common for about two billion years of Earth's early history, however nowadays they are only found in a few lakes throughout the world.

How do they grow?

We don’t know very much about how they grow. We know that photosynthetic cyanobacteria and some microbes are probably involved. They grow in clear water and sunlight and photosynthesis appears important for their growth.

They grow on the rocky sides of lakes and also form on fallen trees and logs - perhaps they are using the wood as a source of food!

Where can we find microbialites?

Modern and actively growing freshwater microbialites are found in a few lakes in the world. In the US, you can find them in
Green Lake, Fayetteville, NY
Great Salt Lake, UT
Pyramid Lake, NV
Mono Lake, CA

Canada in Pavillion Lake and Kelly Lake, BC
Mexico in Crater Lake (Kempe)
- Laguna Bacalar
- Cuatro Cienegas
- Lake Alchichica
Turkey in Lake Van
Western Australia
and other lakes so come back again.....

So what is so important about them?

Microbialites represent a major stage in the Earth’s evolutionary history. The cyanobacteria and microbial communities that build them are similar to life forms found on Earth up to 3.5 billion years ago!

Microbialites are modern-day examples of life in Precambrian times and are excellent examples of pervasive microbial life on the early Earth and provide examples of potential life on other planets.

Scientists from NASA are working on other microbialites as a means to understand what life may look like on other planets

Discover and describe freshwater microbialites in
Fayetteville Green Lake

The freshwater microbialites in Green Lake are both massive and small. From the path walking around the lake you can see some very large microbialites including the largest at Deadman's Point.

There are microbialites growing on fallen trees in the lake and many others yet to be discovered!

Searching for microbialites in summer 2014

Using side scan sonar techniques, usualy used to look for shipwrecks, we went looking for microbialites in Fayetteville Green Lake.

Side scan sonar can detect solid objects by transmitting sound energy (like a submarine ping or echo location of bats) and analyzing the return signal (or echo).

We saw some intriguing structures on the bottom of the lake in the shallow end around 15m. These may be the pillar structures of microbialites that have been seen in Pavillion Lake in Canada. We will be going back later this summer with video cameras to document these discoveries. Hopefully they are some never seen before pillar microbialites in Green lake.

Good resources on freshwater microbialites

Pavillion Lake Project

Good resources on their "cousins" in the ocean typically known as stromatolites

Stromatolites in Shark Bay Australia

BBC documentary about Lee Stocking Stromatolites


Underwater view of Deadman's Point microbialite

Underwater view of deeper microbialite (4m below surface and about 1m wide) in Green Lake

Microbialites grow on fallen trees and logs

Side scan sonar image of near surface large microbialites

Sonar image of potential pillar type microbialites on the bottom of the lake in 15 m of water