Juvenile chemical sediments and the long term persistence of water at the surface of Mars

Nicholas J. Tosca, Andrew H. Knoll

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    105 Citations (Scopus)


    Chemical sediments and the aqueous alteration products of volcanic rocks clearly indicate the presence of water, at least episodically, at the Martian surface. Compared to similar materials formed on the early Earth, however, Martian deposits are juvenile, or diagenetically under-developed. Here we examine the role of water in facilitating various diagenetic reactions and evaluate the predicted effects of time and temperature for aqueous diagenesis on Mars. Using kinetic formulations based on terrestrial sedimentary geology, we quantify the integrated effects of time and temperature for a range of possible burial and thermal histories of precipitated minerals on Mars. From this, we estimate thresholds beyond which these precipitates should have been converted to the point of non-detection in the presence of water. Surface water has been shown to be at least episodically present in recent times. Nonetheless, the integrated duration of aqueous activity recorded over geologically long intervals by hydrated amorphous silica, smectite clays and Fe-sulfate minerals suggests that where these minerals occur water did not persist much beyond their initial deposition. This geochemical conclusion converges with geomorphologic studies that suggest water limitation during the late Noachian-Hesperian peak of valley formation and a still more limited footprint of water since that time. In addition to documenting the presence of water and its chemical properties, a complete assessment of potentially habitable environments on Mars should address the timescales on which liquid water has persisted and the timing of aqueous episodes relative to major planetary events. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)379-386
    Number of pages8
    JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2009


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