Spectral evidence for weathered basalt as an alternative to andesite in the northern lowlands of Mars

Abstract

Mineral abundances derived from the analysis of remotely sensed thermal emission data from Mars have been interpreted to indicate that the surface is composed of basalt (Surface Type 1) and andesite (Surface Type 2)1. The global distribution of these rock types is divided roughly along the planetary dichotomy which separates ancient, heavily cratered crust in the southern hemisphere (basalt) from younger lowland plains in the north (andesite)1. But the existence of such a large volume of andesite is difficult to reconcile with our present understanding of the geological evolution of Mars. Here we reinterpret martian surface rock lithologies using mineral abundances from previous work1 and new mineralogies derived from a spectral end-member set representing minerals common in unaltered and low-temperature aqueously altered basalts. Our results continue to indicate the dominance of unaltered basalt in the southern highlands, but reveal that the northern lowlands can be interpreted as weathered basalt as an alternative to andesite. The coincidence between locations of such altered basalt and a suggested northern ocean basin implies that lowland plains material may be composed of basalts weathered under submarine conditions or weathered basaltic sediments transported into this depocentre.

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Figure 1: Comparison of martian surface spectra and modelled spectral fits.
Figure 2: Spectral comparisons of glass, clays, terrestrial basalt and martian surface spectra.
Figure 3: Global distribution of Surface Types 1 and 2 as determined by ref. 1 and global topography determined from MOLA data14.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. Bandfield, J. Moersch, T. Hare, J. Mustard, R. Clark, V. Hamilton and P. Christensen for discussions of the results presented here.

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Correspondence to Michael B. Wyatt.

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Wyatt, M., McSween, H. Spectral evidence for weathered basalt as an alternative to andesite in the northern lowlands of Mars. Nature 417, 263–266 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/417263a

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