Jarosite Precipitation from Acidic Saline Waters in Kachchh, Gujarat, India: an Appropriate Martian Analogue?

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Souvik Mitra1, Saibal Gupta1, Satadru Bhattacharya2, Santanu Banerjee3, Prakash Chauhan2 and Gopalakrishnarao Parthasarathy4, (1)Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, Kharagpur, India, (2)Space Applications center, Ahemadabad, India, (3)Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Earth Sciences, Mumbai, India, (4)National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, India
The origin of jarosite [KFe3(SO4)2(OH)6] on the Martian surface has been an intriguing problem since the Mars Exploration Rover ‘Opportunity’ first revealed its presence at the Meridiani Planum on Mars. To explain its origin, several terrestrial analogue sites have been studied in different geographical zones. Although several models have been suggested, there is a consensus that only the prevalence of acidic and oxidizing aqueous environmental conditions are conducive to form jarosite. In the Kachchh region of Gujarat, western India, jarosite has been recently discovered from gorges dissecting the Paleocene Matanumadh Formation sediments, that overlie basalts of the Deccan Volcanic Province. This formation comprises pebble conglomerates, carbonaceous shales and purple sandstones capped by a laterite on top. Jarosite, in association with gypsum and goethite, has been detected through FTIR and VNIR spectrometry in almost all litho-units of the succession, albeit in different modes and concentrations. The occurrence of jarosite within black shale in other parts of the world, has been attributed to the oxidation of pyrites within the shale layers. However, in shales of the Matanumadh Formation, jarosite is restricted to fractures that cut across the bedding, while the overlying purple sandstone unit only preserves jarosite in shale clasts within the sandstone. Since the sandstone overlies the black shale layer, downward percolation of sulfate-bearing water from the oxidation of pyrite within the shale layer cannot explain jarosite formation in this unit. In addition, no jarosite is observed below or within pyrite-rich lignite bearing sections in other parts of Kachchh. Alternative suggestions, that jarosite developed in the immediate aftermath of Deccan volcanism as surface waters were rendered acidic by interaction with the final phase of volcanic effusives, are also unlikely as on-going studies suggest that jarosite is not restricted to the Matanumadh Formation. The consistent association of jarosite-bearing horizons with gypsum in Kachchh indicate that saline water intrusion may have played an important role in its formation. Since this association is also reported from the Meridiani Planum, a model explaining the origin of jarosite formation in Kachchh may also be relevant for the Martian surface.