Aeolian driven oxidant and hydrogen generation in Martian regolith: The role of mineralogy and abrasion temperature

1John O.Edgar,2Katie Gilmour,2Maggie L.White,1Geoffrey D.Abbott,1Jon Telling
Earth and Planetary Science Letters 579, 117361 Link to Article []
1School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK
2School of Engineering, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK
Copyright Elsevier

The surface of Mars is a dynamic, cold environment where aeolian abrasion leads to the fracturing of silicate minerals which can produce oxidants upon exposure to water. Here we report results of a series of laboratory experiments where the abrasion of sand sized (125 – 300 μm) quartz, labradorite, forsterite and opal were conducted under a simulated Martian atmosphere at a range of temperatures common to Mars’ surface (193 to 273 K). Our results suggest that abrasion rates are controlled by temperature; an observation that may have potential for providing insight into Martian paleo-temperatures. On the addition of water, detectable H2O2 was generated in all abraded experiments with crystalline quartz, labradorite and forsterite, but not amorphous opal – supporting previous inferences that mineral crystal structure plays a role in oxidant production. Dissolved Fe concentrations also indicated a strong additional control on net H2O2 production by Fenton reactions. Detectable H2 was similarly measured in abraded experiments with crystalline minerals and not for amorphous opal. Labradorite and forsterite generated minimal H2 and only in more abraded samples, likely due to the reaction of Si• with water. In quartz experiments H2 was only present in samples where a black magnetic trace mineral was also present, and where H2O2 concentrations had been reduced to close to detection. In the quartz samples we infer a mechanism of H2 generation via the previously proposed model of spinel-surface-promoted-electron transfer to water. The presence of H2O2 may exert an additional control on net H2 production rates either directly (via reaction of H2 with OH• and H2O2) or indirectly (by the oxidation of H2 generating sites on mineral surfaces). Overall, our data supports previous inferences that aeolian abrasion can produce additional oxidants within the Martian regolith that can increase the degradation of organic molecules. We further suggest that the apparent control of H2O2 concentrations on net H2 generation in our experiments may help explain some previous apparently contradictory evidence for mineral-water H2 generation at low temperatures.


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