To better understand what could make an ocean world habitable, we need to understand the physical and chemical limits of life on Earth. How does life survive in the deepest, darkest depths of our ocean? How does life survive in ice, and beneath meters to kilometers of ice? Are those conditions for life present within ocean worlds like Europa and Enceladus?
For the most part, we predict that the answer for habitability on these worlds is a cautious 'yes', but we do not know if the origin of life is easy or hard. A habitable ocean world could certainly be uninhabited. What then would be the potential signs of life within an ocean world? What measurements should one make? Do the ice shells of these ocean worlds serve as windows into the oceans below?
Questions like these can be informed by what we see here on Earth. The study of life (and the signatures of life and biological processes) in Earth's ocean and ice provides a win-win where we advance our understanding of life on our home planet, while simultaneously building a bridge to our search for life beyond Earth.
Below are a few images from our team's work in the Arctic, Antarctic, deep ocean, and a variety of other locales around our blue marble (Earth).