Acidic Alteration Environments on Mars and Implications for Habitability

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Janice L Bishop, SETI Institute Mountain View, Mountain View, CA, United States, Jessica Flahaut, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Catherine M Weitz, Planetary Science Institute Tucson, Tucson, AZ, United States, Christoph Gross, Free University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany, Mario Parente, UMASS-Elect & Comp Engrg, Amherst, MA, United States and Briony H. N. Horgan, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, United States
Unique surface materials have been discovered recently at Valles Marineris (Roach et al., 2010; Weitz et al., 2014; Flahaut et al., 2014), Noctis Labyrinthus (Weitz et al., 2011), Mawrth Vallis (Bishop et al., 2013), and elsewhere that have CRISM features distinct from those of any known minerals. Typically these unusual sites are found in light-toned outcrops or interior layered deposits associated with phyllosilicates, sulfates or both. Frequently these units are called “doublet” materials because they exhibit a doublet absorption in CRISM spectra between 2.2 and 2.3 µm. We are investigating the spectral signatures of these martian materials compared to our library of minerals and alteration materials. We are also evaluating the stratigraphy of these unique alteration phases compared with neighboring phyllosilicate and sulfate units.

A similar 2.2-2.3 µm doublet has been observed in spectra taken of acid altered clays produced in the laboratory (Madejova et al., 2009; Tosca et al., 2009). The band centers and relative intensities of these martian doublet features vary greatly suggesting that a process such as acid weathering could be acting on OH-bearing minerals to produce altered phases that differ depending on the type of substrate, water/rock ratio, solution chemistry, and duration of aqueous processes.

Because these unique materials occur in many regions across a range of times on Mars, acidic alteration may have been a key process at local and regional scales throughout martian geologic history. Constraining the types of acidic alteration that have taken place on Mars will assist in defining the aqueous geochemistry at these sites and whether habitable conditions were possible.

References: Bishop et al. (2013) PSS, 86, 130-149. Flahaut et al. (2014) EPSC, #211. Madejová et al. (2009) Vibrational Spectroscopy, 49, 211-218. Roach et al. (2010) Icarus, 206, 253–268. Tosca & Knoll (2009) 40th LPSC, #1538. Weitz et al. (2011) Geology, 39, 899-902. Weitz et al. (2014) Icarus, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2014.04.009.