Mineralogy and chemistry of San Carlos high-alkali basalts: Analyses of alteration with application for Mars exploration

1,2Bryné A. Hadnott, 2,3Bethany L. Ehlmann, 1Bradley L. Jolliff
American Mineralogist 102, 284-301 Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.2138/am-2017-5608]
1Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63105, U.S.A.
2Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, U.S.A.
3Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91109, U.S.A.
4Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Room 414 Spaces Sciences Building, Cornell University, 122 Garden Avenue, Ithaca, New York 14853, U.S.A.
Copyright: The Mineralogical Society of America

The discovery of Fe, Mg, and Al phyllosilicates on Mars using visible and short-wave infrared (VSWIR) spectroscopy from orbit indicates aqueous alteration of basaltic rocks. Analyses at Gusev Crater by the Spirit rover and Gale Crater by the Curiosity rover have discovered alkaline basaltic rocks. In this work, multiple methods—VSWIR spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction (XRD), and chemical analyses—were used to study a suite of alkaline basalts from San Carlos, Arizona, which have been altered by water in an oxidative, semi-arid environment. As an analog for the weathering of alkaline basaltic rocks on Mars, a suite of rocks visually identified to have different degrees of alteration were characterized to understand the spectral, mineralogical, and chemical trends in alteration as sensed by multiple techniques. Samples with strong 1.9 μm H2O-related absorptions in VSWIR commonly exhibited absorption bands at 1.4, 2.2, and/or 2.3 μm, indicating the presence of clay minerals or silica as well as features at 0.5–0.9 μm indicative of ferric iron oxides. Primary mineralogy for all samples, as determined by point analyses with the microprobe and XRD, consisted of olivine, plagioclase, nepheline, augite, and titanomagnetite. Compositional imaging and spot analyses with the microprobe revealed distinct alteration textures and phases, suggesting weathering pathways involving the oxidation of iron in olivine and primary Fe2+ oxides to form Fe3+ oxides as well as the formation of aluminum phyllosilicates and magnesium phyllosilicates from feldspars and olivines, respectively, while pyroxene remained relatively unaltered. Bivariate plots of major oxides both from bulk-chemical analysis and microprobe measurements also revealed trends in alkali and silica depletion and calcium enrichment, but there was little chemical fractionation in most of the major oxides. The strength of the 1.9 μm H2O absorption, loss on ignition, and depletion in silica and sodium, correlated with increasing alteration. The data sets provide an analog for understanding possible weathering pathways in martian alkaline basalts and thresholds for the detection of aqueous alteration in multiple data sets.

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