Embedded clays and sulfates in Meridiani Planum, Mars

J.D. Flahaut, J. Carter, F. Poulet, J.P. Bibring, W. van Westrenen, G.R. Davies, S.L. Murchie

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The area of Meridiani Planum on Mars became of particular interest after the detection of coarse-grained, gray hematite, which led to the choice of this region as final landing site for the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Multiple additional minerals have since been detected in the region, both from orbit and in situ. The present paper reassesses in detail the mineralogy and geomorphology of the area (between 3.5°S to 6.5°N latitude and 8.0°W to 8.0°E longitude) using visible and near-infrared hyperspectral data, merged with high spatial resolution images into a Geographic Information System. Fe/Mg-rich phyllosilicates, as well as several types of sulfates are identified within the kilometer of sedimentary deposits constituting the etched terrains and the overlying hematite-rich plains. The mineralogical stratigraphy of the etched terrains is characterized by a sulfate-rich unit, enriched in Fe/Mg-rich clays in its uppermost part. This clay-rich horizon is capped by another sulfate-rich unit, of different composition, associated with hematite detections and constituting the material of the hematite plains unit. The clay-bearing unit, which directly underlies the hematite plains, may be exposed in the rim of Endeavour Crater and could correspond to the material that is currently being analyzed by Opportunity. Diverse landforms including karsts and pan features are observed at the surface of the hydrated etched terrains and indicate past surface water and potential groundwater aquifers. Our analysis reveals that both surficial water and groundwater processes are required to explain the diversity of morphologies and mineralogies observed in the area. Although orbital detections are consistent with the hematite and sulfate detections made in situ by Opportunity in the hematite plains, they also show the presence of a clay-rich horizon at depth, overlying another, thicker, possibly chemically distinct, sulfate-rich unit within the etched terrains. Therefore we conclude that the very acidic conditions that prevailed during the formation of the topmost sulfate-rich unit, as observed in Meridiani Planum and in the hematite plains by the rover Opportunity, are not representative of the entire history of the etched terrains. In contrast, most hydrated minerals in Meridiani Planum likely formed at more neutral pH, at the beginning of the Hesperian. The overall sulfate/clay/sulfate sequence is similar to the one observed in Gale Crater, the landing site of the Mars Science Laboratory rover.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-288
Issue number248
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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