Hydrothermal systems on Mars: An assessment of present evidence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

64 Scopus citations

Abstract

Hydrothermal processes have been suggested to explain a number of observations for Mars, including D/H ratios of water extracted from Martian meteorites, as a means for removing CO2 from the Martian atmosphere and sequestering it in the crust as carbonates, and as a possible origin for iron oxide-rich spectral units on the floors of some rifted basins (chasmata). There are numerous examples of Martian channels formed by discharges of subsurface water near potential magmatic heat sources, and hydrothermal processes have also been proposed as a mechanism for aquifer recharge needed to sustain long term erosion of sapping channels. The following geological settings have been identified as targets for ancient hydrothermal systems on Mars: channels located along the margins of impact crater melt sheets and on the slopes of ancient volcanoes; chaotic and fretted terranes where shallow subsurface heat sources are thought to have interacted with ground ice; and the floors of calderas and rifted basins (e.g. chasmata). On Earth, such geological environments are often a locus for hydrothermal mineralization. But we presently lack the mineralogical information needed for a definitive evaluation of hypotheses. A preferred tool for identifying minerals by remote sensing methods on Earth is high spatial resolution, hyperspectral, near-infrared spectroscopy, a technique that has been extensively developed by mineral explorationists. Future efforts to explore Mars for ancient hydrothermal systems would benefit from the application of methods developed by the mining industry to look for similar deposits on Earth. But Earth-based exploration models must be adapted to account for the large differences in the climatic and geological history of Mars. For example, it is likely that the early surface environment of Mars was cool, perhaps consistently below freezing, with the shallow portions of hydrothermal systems being dominated by magma-cryosphere interactions. Given the smaller gravitational field, declining atmospheric pressure, and widespread, permeable megaregolith on Mars, volatile outgassing and magmatic cooling would have been more effective than on Earth. Thus, hydrothermal systems are likely to have had much lower average surface temperatures than comparable geological settings on Earth. The likely predominance of basaltic crust on Mars suggests that hydrothermal fluids and associated deposits should be enriched in Fe, Mg, Si and Ca, with surficial deposits being dominated by lower temperature, mixed iron oxide and carbonate mineralogies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-299
Number of pages27
JournalCIBA Foundation Symposia
Issue number202
StatePublished - Dec 1 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Hydrothermal systems on Mars: An assessment of present evidence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this