Dr. Nathalie A. Cabrol


Nathalie’s other car is on Mars;

She climbs the highest volcanoes in the world only to trade

her mountain gears for a dry suit and dive into their summit lakes…

And, yes, it all makes sense when you want to understand what links the exploration of Mars, the search for the limits of life on Earth and on other planets, and the impact of climate change.


Exploration, whatever its focus, is limitless, multi-facetted, and exquisitely complex. The understanding of how and why planets evolve, whether they could have hosted life in the past and could in the future harbor a human presence, how climate change impacts their habitability - and for Earth, its biodiversity - are questions that need to be addressed from multiple perspectives. Nathalie’s vision of exploration reflects this philosophy. She is a planetary scientist and an explorer on this planet and others at the SETI Carl Sagan Center and has her office at NASA Ames Research Center in California. She designs and tests exploration strategies for rovers in terrestrial analogs to planetary environments, and was the main advocate for the landing site that was ultimately selected for the rover Spirit on the NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission. She is also a member of the science team on that mission. Because humans have yet to walk on the red planet, she explores terrestrial extreme environments analogous to Mars in order to understand if life had a chance to develop and to survive when climate changed 3.5 billion years ago. In the process, she is collecting data on the impact of climate change here and now on Earth. Exploration takes Nathalie from Mars to the summit of the highest volcanoes in the Andes, to the bottom of lakes, and to the most arid deserts in the world. She bridges planets by deciphering their past from the present and their present from the past, and builds a vision of our future.


      A life commitment to sharing the excitement of exploration and discovery:

      • Over 400 public conferences, invited talks, and teachers workshops in 24 years;

      • Over 330 professional peer-reviewed articles and personal communications; She authored 3 books for the general public and is the co-editor of a book entitled Lakes on Mars (Elsevier) to be published in September 2010, in which she authors two chapters.

      • A member of the NASA Mars Exploration Rover science team; She was the spokesperson for the selection of the landing site for the rover Spirit;

      • Her work is recognized by many US and international awards.

      • She holds the (documented but unclaimed) records of the world’s highest scuba and free diving for a woman in the summit lake of the Licancabur volcano (5,916 m/19410 ft);

      • Nathalie’s projects and scientific expeditions are featured in NOVA, PBS, Discovery Channels, National Geographics, and Popular Science and others in the US and abroad;

      • She is a true believer in the importance of teaching math, science, and leadership in schools. She makes a point to participate to teachers workshops on those topics and others and has engaged over the years many schools, children, and students in her projects and expeditions.

      Nathalie’s Most Frequently Requested Topics:



      Some of the least known lakes are located on top of the highest volcanoes on Earth in the Central Andes of Chile and Bolivia and the clock is ticking. Climate change is bringing aridity to this region of the world, making these lakes decline rapidly. Their uncharted ecosystems may hold critical scientific information on how life survives over geological times and climate cycles but they may fade into oblivion before they ever have a chance to be documented. To collect data from these lakes and their environment before it is too late, Nathalie and her team ascend to 19,700 ft on the slopes of the Licancabur volcano. The team is composed of geophysicists, geologists, microbiologists, engineers, and porters hauling 500 kg of scientific equipment to the summit. There, Nathalie and two teammates leave their mountaineering gears to scuba dives into the frigid (39oF/4oC) waters of the lake. The samples they bring back contain a large number of new species that have developed strategies to survive the increasing environmental stress of their disappearing habitat. These species tell us about the resilience and fragility of life and are conveying both a warning and a message of hope for the future of our planet. They also tell us about the possibility of life on other planets.



      Failure was not an option. In 2003, when the rovers Spirit and Opportunity take off for Mars, NASA still carries the stigma of the loss of both Mars Polar Lander and Climate Orbiter in 1999. In a spectacular come back to Mars, in January 2004, the two rovers land with airbags on Mars within 3 weeks of each other and after 6 years at the surface of the red planet and more than 21 km of combined traverse (13 miles), they are still carrying on a mission that was supposed to last only 90 days and cover 600 m (~ 600 yards). As a member of the science team, Nathalie gives the public a unique insight into this extraordinary adventure of planetary exploration, leading-edge exploration, the engineering and scientific gives and takes of robotic twin-survival on another planet, and what it takes to make it happen no matter what.


      While radio telescopes are scanning distant stars in hope to possibly detect a signal from technologically advanced alien civilizations, scientists are also actively probing Earth’s own backyard in search of life in the Solar System. In the past 40 years, planetary robotic and human exploration have established that our planet is the only one in the Solar System to have developed complex, intelligent, life. Yet, in the last 20 years, exploration of Earth’s most extreme environments have demonstrated that microbial life can adapt to an almost limitless array of environmental conditions, some of them very similar to those observed on other planets and moons. These discoveries have led to a new definition of the “Habitable Zone”. Habitability’s three essential components, water, energy, nutrients, guide the scientists quest for life in the Solar System. They show that islands of fertility could be hiding behind what appears to be the most extreme planetary environments. Beyond Earth, Mars and Europa are not anymore the only one considered as potential candidates for habitability. Moons, such as Ganymede, Callisto, Enceladus, and Titan, comets and asteroids are also new contenders. As a planetary scientist and extreme environment explorer, Nathalie takes you to the heart of today’s astrobiological cutting-edge exploration and shows that although the question of Are We Alone? is as old as mankind, our generation might be closing in on the answer.



      In the past 30 years, the myth about Mars has given way to the hard data collected by orbital and ground missions. The fiction of canals and oases has faded with time and today we take our revenge on H. G. Wells’ martians by invading the red planet and relentlessly poking its surface. Even if reality has replaced the imaginative visions of Mars from a century ago, the excitement of exploring this world has far from vanished. In fact, if we look closely, nothing has really changed: our search is still about water and life. Although the dry channels we discovered are not artificial, they comprise some of the evidence supporting the existence of ancient lakes, deltas, possibly an ocean. We also uncovered vast reservoirs of underground water, giant volcanoes that seem to have erupted not so long ago, and small gullies that are a clear sign of some sort of activity in the past seven years. But what makes Mars so special, and a place like no other in the Solar System, can be found by searching deep into the human psyche. It’s about a postcard sunset over a hill, as imaged by a rover that landed six years ago on a giant impact crater basin; billions of marble-like spherules abandoned on a desolated plain and layered rocks sculpting a book of stone that tell tales of more clement times. it’s about a 24-hour day; night skies where Orion rises as it does on Earth during winter; four seasons punctuating a year; faint icy clouds passing in the sky; dust devils and sandstorms and hills, volcanoes, deserts, dunes, mountains, canyons, and polar caps.

      During this journey to the red planet illustrated by the most recent and highest resolution images and videos, Nathalie will show you why there is no need to invent words to describe Mars. They have been in our vocabulary since the dawn of our existence since despite all the differences, Mars is for us the closest place to home in the solar system. Its frozen landscape has kept the record of a past not so dissimilar to ours. And that landscape might have preserved clues, long gone from our own planet, of how life originated. Mars is the keeper of our past. It also offers the promise of new beginnings as mankind’s first home away from home, our first step as an interplanetary civilization. The time might not be far off when the oases and canals of fiction will flourish on the surface of Mars, and beings will visit our blue planet in spaceships. But this time it won’t be science-fiction and they will be human.

      They wrote about Nathalie:

      She’s like a Michael Crichton book that met a Jerry Bruckheimer film and decided to guest star on an episode of The X-Files [Eric Vance: The New (New) Einsteins: Nathalie Cabrol].

      I have seen Nathalie present many public lectures and oral papers at scientific conferences, as well. She is always clear and her enthusiasm for scientific exploration is infectious…Nathalie showed an amazing ability to combine the scientific with the spiritual. She helped me understand that science is not just about gathering facts, but also about giving something back to humanity and to the Earth, that knowledge has its greatest impact when it flows in a circle.” [Henry Bortman, Astrobiology Magazine].

      And Finally…

      Nathalie will be happy to create custom presentations that combine elements from different presentations and various topics to address her audience needs, including planetary exploration and scientific expeditions, science and adventure, analog missions and how we explore Earth’s most extreme environments to understand other planets, their potential for life, and our place in the universe. If you have a specific topic in mind that includes exploration, just ask!

In the Media

Nathalie’s work is being regularly cited by the US and international media, such as (press) National Geographic, Times children, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Popular Science, Le Monde, Le Quotidien de Paris, Le Figaro, (TV science series and documentaries) PBS, Nova, Discovery Channel, CNN, BBC News, Chilean and Bolivian Televisions and newspapers, Der Spiegel, ADR – German TV, M6 – French TV Channel, and others.

Examples of press articles published about Nathalie can be viewed at:





The most recent TV documentaries, science series, and shows featuring Dr. Cabrol were:

  • Welcome to Mars, NOVA, US, (2004)

  • Destination Mars, Channel 4, US (2004)

  • ADR: The High Lakes Project, Germany (2004)

  • Seeking Solutions with Suzanne, US (2005)

  • Looking for Life, Passport to Knowledge, PBS, US (2006)

  • Following the Water, Passport to Knowledge, PBS, US (2006)

  • Are We Alone?, Discovery Channel, US (2009)


Nathalie is featured in the following popular books:

  • Gregory Bendford: The Martian Race, Warner Books Edition

  • Lee Gutkind: Almost Human: Making Robots Think, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

  • Gloria Skurzynski: Are We Alone? Scientists Search for Life in Space, published by National Geographic

  • Oliver Morton: Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World, Macmillan, 357 pages;

Book Translated:

  • Translation in French of the book “ The Miracle Planet” from the American TV Series by Bruce Brown – PBS-TV- , Atlas (Ed.), N. A. Cabrol and E. A. Grin, translators.

Published Work

Nathalie counts over 330 peer-reviewed articles and personal communications. She also authored three books for the general public (in French, included one translated into Chinese) and contributed to several chapters of books (see below). She is the co-editor with Dr. Edmond Grin of a book entitled Lakes on Mars that will be published by Elsevier in September 2010.

Authored Books:

  • Nathalie Cabrol and Edmond Grin. La Recherche de la Vie dans l’Univers; Collection Que Sais-Je? Presses Universitaires de France (2000), 128p. This book was translated into Chinese. See: http://www.amazon.fr/recherche-vie-dans-lunivers/dp/2130510205;

  • Nathalie Cabrol and Edmond Grin. La Terre et la Lune (in French); Collection Que Sais-Je? Presses Universitaires de France (1998), 128p. See: http://www.techno-science.net/?onglet=ouvrages&ID=2130494269;

  • Nathalie Cabrol. Arthur ou la Flèche du Temps. Tsuru (in French), Fiction (1990). See: http://www.chapitre.com/CHAPITRE/fr/BOOK/cabrol-nathalie-a/arthur-ou-la-fleche-du-temps-recit,6144292.aspx.

Chapters of Books:

  • Nathalie Cabrol and Edmond Grin: Searching for Lakes on Mars: Forty Years of Exploration, In: Lakes on Mars, Chapter 1, (N. A. Cabrol and E. A. Grin, Eds), Elsevier, ISBN 978-0-444-52854-4 , (to be published in September, 2010).

  • Nathalie Cabrol et al., Dynamics of Declining Lake Habitat in a Rapidly Changing Climate, In: Lakes on Mars, Chapter 1, (N. A. Cabrol and E. A. Grin, Eds), Elsevier, ISBN 978-0-444-52854-4 , (to be published in September, 2010).

  • Nathalie Cabrol et al., Other analogs to Mars: High-altitude, subsurface desert, and polar environments. In: Life in Antarctic Deserts and Other Cold Dry Environments: Astrobiological Analogs, Doran, P. Ed., Cambridge University Press, in press.

  • Nathalie Cabrol et al., Signatures of Habitats and Life in Earth’s High-Altitude Lakes: Clues to Noachian Aqueous Environments on Mars. In: The Geology of Mars, Chapter 14: Evidence from Earth-Based Analogs, Mary Chapman, Ed., Cambridge University Press, 349-370, (2007). See:


  • Nathalie Cabrol and Edmond Grin. Chapter 10: Ancient and Recent Lakes on Mars. In: Water on Mars and Life (Tetsuya Tokano, Ed.) Springer, (2005), p235-259. See: http://www.springer.com/astronomy/extraterrestrial+physics/book/978-3-540-20624-8

  • Nathalie Cabrol. In: Risk and Exploration: Earth, Sea, and the Stars, S. J. Dick and K. L. Cowing (Eds), Publisher: NASA, 304 pages, 2005. See also: http://www.amazings.com/sbb/reviews/review0608.html

  • Nathalie Cabrol. Les Planètes Géantes (in French) In: Atlas de l’Espace, Encyclopedia Universalis, 1988.

Lecture Themes

In addition to the themes shown below, Nathalie will be happy to combine elements from different presentations and various topics to address her audience’s needs. All programs use images and videos from NASA planetary missions and other agencies and from scientific expeditions in terrestrial extreme environment where available.

  • Exploration as a way of life, a tool for human growth and survival

  • Scientific expeditions to extreme environments

  • The impact of climate change on our biosphere and on society

  • Exploring the limits of life in the highest lakes on Earth

  • Extreme environments of Earth and Life in the Universe

  • Risk, exploration, and the spirit of discovery

  • Leadership

  • Mars exploration

  • Planetary Exploration




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