Subglacial hydrothermal alteration minerals in Jökulhlaup deposits of Southern Iceland, with implications for detecting past or present habitable environments on mars

Nicholas H. Warner, Jack Farmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

23 Scopus citations


Jökulhlaups are terrestrial catastrophic outfloods, often triggered by subglacial volcanic eruptions. Similar volcano-ice interactions were likely important on Mars where magma/lava may have interacted with the planet's cryosphere to produce catastrophic floods. As a potential analogue to sediments deposited during martian floods, the Holocene sandurs of Iceland are dominated by basaltic clasts derived from the subglacial environment and deposited during jökulhlaups. Palagonite tuffs and breccias, present within the deposits, represent the primary alteration lithology. The surface abundance of palagonite on the sandurs is 1-20%. X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis of palagonite breccias confirms a mineral assemblage of zeolites, smectites, low-quartz, and kaolinite. Oriented powder X-ray diffractograms (<2μm fraction) for palagonite breccia clasts and coatings reveal randomly ordered smectite, mixed layer smectite/illite, zeolites, and quartz. Visible light-near infrared (VNIR) and shortwave infrared (SWIR) lab spectroscopic data of the same palagonite samples show H2O/OH- absorptions associated with clays and zeolites. SWIR spectra derived from Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) images of the sandurs reveal Al-OH- and Si-OH- absorption features. The identified alteration mineral assemblage is consistent with low temperature (100-140°C) hydrothermal alteration of basaltic material within the subglacial environment. These results suggest that potential martian analog sites that contain a similar suite of hydrated minerals may be indicative of past hydrothermal activity and locations where past habitable environments for microbial life may be found.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-547
Number of pages25
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 1 2010



  • Mars-Reflectance spectroscopy-Astrobiology-Hydrothermal systems-Habitability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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