Low albedo sediments cover >107 km2 in the northern lowlands of Mars, but the composition and origin of these widespread deposits have remained ambiguous despite many previous investigations. Here we use near-infrared spectra acquired by the Mars Express OMEGA (Observatoire pour la Minéralogie, l'Eau, les Glaces, et l'Activité) imaging spectrometer to show that these sediments exhibit spectral characteristics that are consistent with both high abundances of iron-bearing glass and silica-enriched leached rinds on glass. This interpretation is supported by observations of low-albedo soil grains with possible rinds at the Phoenix Mars Lander landing site in the northern lowlands. By comparison with the extensive glass-rich dune fields and sand sheets of Iceland, we propose an explosive volcanic origin for these glass-rich sediments. We also propose that the glassy remnant rinds on the sediments are the result of postdepositional alteration, as these rinds are commonly formed in arid terrestrial volcanic environments during water-limited, moderately acidic leaching. These weathered, glass-rich deposits in the northern lowlands are also colocated with the strongest concentrations of a major global compositional surface type previously identified in mid-infrared spectra, suggesting that they may be representative of global processes. Our results provide potential confirmation of models suggesting that explosive volcanism has been widespread on Mars, and also raise the possibilities that glass-rich volcaniclastics are a major source of eolian sand on Mars and that widespread surficial aqueous alteration has occurred under Amazonian climatic conditions.
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