Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Martian Atmosphere was Reducing (ie not oxidizing) Through the end of the Noachian Era, 3.7 Billion Years ago

Mineralogical record of the redox conditions on early Mars


Dehouck et al


Sulfates and Fe-oxides identified on the martian surface by orbital and in situ missions indicate that oxidizing conditions have existed on early Mars, at least locally and/or episodically. In the context of rock alteration and weathering, redox conditions are especially critical for the behavior of iron, which is soluble in its divalent state but insoluble in its trivalent state. Here, we combine results from a series of laboratory experiments conducted under Mars-like conditions to address the influence of highly-oxidizing compounds such as hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) on the alteration pathways of primary materials. We show that, if early Mars had a dense CO2 atmosphere allowing for relatively “warm and wet” conditions and surface weathering, highly-oxidizing conditions would have strongly inhibited the formation of Fe/Mg-smectite clays from alteration of igneous ferromagnesian minerals, and possibly enhanced the formation of carbonates. But a decade of mineral mapping of the martian surface show abundant, widespread Fe/Mg-clays and rare carbonates, which we interpret here as a mineralogical record of poorly-oxidizing (or even reducing) conditions during most of the Noachian era. Oxidizing conditions would have occurred later in martian history as a consequence of a higher rate of H2 escape or of a lower rate of volcanic outgassing, or both.

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