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Discovery of alunite in Cross crater, Terra Sirenum, Mars: Evidence for acidic, sulfurous waters

July 1, 2016

Cross crater is a 65 km impact crater, located in the Noachian highlands of the Terra Sirenum region of Mars (30°S, 158°W), which hosts aluminum phyllosilicate deposits first detected by the Observatoire pour la Minéralogie, L’Eau, les Glaces et l’Activitié (OMEGA) imaging spectrometer on Mars Express. Using high-resolution data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, we examine Cross crater’s basin-filling sedimentary deposits. Visible/shortwave infrared (VSWIR) spectra from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) show absorptions diagnostic of alunite. Combining spectral data with high-resolution images, we map a large (10 km × 5 km) alunite-bearing deposit in southwest Cross crater, widespread kaolin-bearing sediments with variable amounts of alunite that are layered in <10 m scale beds, and silica- and/or montmorillonite-bearing deposits that occupy topographically lower, heavily fractured units. The secondary minerals are found at elevations ranging from 700 to 1550 m, forming a discontinuous ring along the crater wall beneath darker capping materials. The mineralogy inside Cross crater is different from that of the surrounding terrains and other martian basins, where Fe/Mg-phyllosilicates and Ca/Mg-sulfates are commonly found. Alunite in Cross crater indicates acidic, sulfurous waters at the time of its formation. Waters in Cross crater were likely supplied by regionally upwelling groundwaters as well as through an inlet valley from a small adjacent depression to the east, perhaps occasionally forming a lake or series of shallow playa lakes in the closed basin. Like nearby Columbus crater, Cross crater exhibits evidence for acid sulfate alteration, but the alteration in Cross is more extensive/complete. The large but localized occurrence of alunite suggests a localized, high-volume source of acidic waters or vapors, possibly supplied by sulfurous (H2S- and/or SO2-bearing) waters in contact with a magmatic source, upwelling steam or fluids through fracture zones. The unique, highly aluminous nature of the Cross crater deposits relative to other martian acid sulfate deposits indicates acid waters, high water throughput during alteration, atypically glassy and/or felsic materials, or a combination of these conditions.

Publication Year 2016
Title Discovery of alunite in Cross crater, Terra Sirenum, Mars: Evidence for acidic, sulfurous waters
DOI 10.2138/am-2016-5574
Authors Bethany L. Ehlmann, Gregg A. Swayze, Ralph E. Milliken, John F. Mustard, Roger N. Clark, Scott L. Murchie, George N. Breit, James J. Wray, Brigitte Gondet, Francois Poulet, John Carter, Wendy M. Calvin, William Benzel, Kimberly D. Seelos
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title American Mineralogist
Index ID 70185026
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center