The Origin of the Terra Meridiani Sediments: Volatile Transport and the Formation of Sulfate Bearing Layered Deposits on MarsThe chemistry, sedimentology, and geology of the Meridiani sedimentary deposits are best explained by eolian reworking of the sublimation residue of a large scale ice/dust deposit. This large ice deposit was located in close proximity to Terra Meridiani and incorporated large amounts of dust, sand, and SO2 aerosols generated by impacts and volcanism during early martian history. Sulfate formation and chemical weathering of the initial igneous material is hypothesized to have occurred inside of the ice when the darker mineral grains were heated by solar radiant energy. This created conditions in which small films of liquid water were created in and around the mineral grains. This water dissolved the SO2 and reacted with the mineral grains forming an acidic environment under low water/rock conditions. Subsequent sublimation of this ice deposit left behind large amounts of weathered sublimation residue which became the source material for the eolian process that deposited the Terra Meridiani deposit. The following features of the Meridiani sediments are best explained by this model: The large scale of the deposit, its mineralogic similarity across large distances, the cation-conservative nature of the weathering processes, the presence of acidic groundwaters on a basaltic planet, the accumulation of a thick sedimentary sequence outside of a topographic basin, and the low water/rock ratio needed to explain the presence of very soluble minerals and elements in the deposit. Remote sensing studies have linked the Meridiani deposits to a number of other martian surface features through mineralogic similarities, geomorphic similarities, and regional associations. These include layered deposits in Arabia Terra, interior layered deposits in the Valles Marineris system, southern Elysium/Aeolis, Amazonis Planitia, and the Hellas basin, Aram Chaos, Aureum Chaos, and Ioni Chaos. The common properties shared by these deposits suggest that all of these deposits share a common formation process which must have acted over a large area of Mars. The results of this study suggest a mechanism for volatile transport on Mars without invoking an early greenhouse. They also imply a common formation mechanism for most of the sulfate minerals and layered deposits on Mars, which explains their common occurrence.
Johnson Space Center
Niles, P.B. (NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)