Geochemical constraints on the presence of clay minerals in the Burns formation, Meridiani Planum, Mars

1C.D. Cino, 1E. Dehouck, 1S.M. McLennan
Icarus (in Press) Link to Article [http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2016.08.029]
1Department of Geosciences, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook NY, 11794-2100, USA
Copyright Elsevier

Burns formation sandstones, deposited by aeolian processes and preserved at Meridiani Planum, Mars, contain abundant sulfate minerals. These sedimentary rocks are thought to be representative of a sulfate-rich geological epoch during late Noachian – early Hesperian time that followed an earlier clay-rich epoch. Twenty Burns formation targets, abraded by the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) and for which alpha-particle X-ray spectrometry (APXS) and Mössbauer spectroscopy data are available, were selected for geochemical modeling. A linear unmixing modeling approach was employed. Mineralogical constituents quantitatively constrained by Mössbauer and Mini-TES spectroscopy and interpreted to be chemically precipitated from aqueous fluids during deposition and/or early diagenesis were subtracted from the bulk chemistry. Resulting residual chemical compositions, interpreted to be dominated by detrital siliciclastic components and representing ∼21–35% of the rocks, were then geochemically evaluated to constrain the potential for the presence of clay minerals or their poorly-crystalline or non-crystalline precursors/chemical equivalents. Calculations incorporated a robust estimate of the uncertainties in mineral abundances. On Al2O3 – (CaO+Na2O) – K2O (A-CN-K) and Al2O3 – (CaO+Na2O+K2O) – (FeOtotal+MgO) (A-CNK-FM) molar ternary diagrams, removal of chemical constituents resulted in a shift from igneous–like compositions to compositions consistent with secondary mineral assemblages containing significant aluminous clay mineral components. All of the residual compositions are corundum-normative, further supportive of the presence of highly aluminous phases. On the A-CNK-FM diagram, clay minerals plotting closest to the residual field are natural montmorillonites but could also represent mixtures of various Mg/Fe-rich phyllosilicates, such as nontronite or saponite, and other more Al-rich minerals such as Al-montmorillonite, kaolinite or illite. Depending on the age of clay mineral formation, occurrence of clay minerals or their poorly crystalline precursors/chemical equivalents in the Burns formation could suggest that any global transition from clay-rich to sulfate-rich environments on early Mars was more complex than previously recognized. Results are also consistent with models for the Burns formation aqueous history in which acidic conditions were more restricted in time and/or space than previously thought and thus may also be consistent with growing evidence that changing redox conditions, rather than global pH variations, was an important factor in the environmental evolution of early Mars.

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