Laboratory Simulations of Permeability Pertaining to Biosignature Development and Preservation Potential for Martian Subsurface Habitability

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Scott M Perl1,2, Frank A Corsetti2, William Berelson2, Kenneth H Nealson2 and Rohit Bhartia1, (1)NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States, (2)University of Southern California, Department of Earth Sciences, Los Angeles, CA, United States
Sedimentological and mineralogical observations indicate that sandstones within the Eagle and Endurance crater sections of the Burns Formation of Meridiani Planum, Mars, were derived from sulfate-bearing altered basalt, possibly from a playa lake, and deposited by eolian and locally subaqueous processes in a eolian dune – sand sheet – interdune setting. Abrasion of rocks within the outcrop outlining Endurance Crater by the MER rover Opportunity revealed void spaces later determined to be secondary pore space created from the dissolution of soluble minerals from multiple groundwater movement (recharge) events. Previous investigations into the secondary porosity and permeability of rocks within the Karatepe section showed that the ability for fluid movement through the vertical sedimentary section was greatest between the Upper and Middle units at the Whatanga contact within Endurance Crater, where secondary porosity was measured to be ~40% of the rock. Our investigations into quantifying subsurface habitability involve simulating the paleo-groundwater environments on the micro-to-mesoscale (sub mm-scale to cm-scale) to determine how preservation potential changes with repeated water-rock interaction, varying fluid chemistry (pH, salinity, T, others), and pressure changes under Earth and Mars conditions. In addition to fluids, microbes (extremophiles) will be introduced into our simulation to observe how changing experimental input conditions impact the growth and development of biotic interactions and eventually biosignatures left behind within sedimentary microtextures. Moreover, detection of biosignatures using visual and UV methods will help inform the M2020 rover mission regarding in-situ analysis of abraded rock outcrops. Finally, results of this work will use terrestrial rocks and fluids from a known Mars analogue (the Rio Tinto basin) in order to aid in determining habitability and survivability in acidic and high saline conditions that are similar to Meridiani Planum, Mars.