The Opportunity Mars Exploration Rover found evidence for groundwater activity in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars1,2 in the form of aeolian and fluvial sediments3 composed of sulphate-rich grains. These sediments appear to have experienced diagenetic modification in the presence of a fluctuating water table3,4,5. In addition to the extensive secondary aqueous alteration, the primary grains themselves probably derive from earlier playa evaporites1,2,4. Little is known, however, about the hydrologic processes responsible for this environmental history—particularly how such extensive evaporite deposits formed in the absence of a topographic basin. Here we investigate the origin of these deposits, in the context of the global hydrology of early Mars, using numerical simulations, and demonstrate that Meridiani is one of the few regions of currently exposed ancient crust predicted to have experienced significant groundwater upwelling and evaporation. The global groundwater flow would have been driven primarily by precipitation-induced recharge and evaporative loss, with the formation of the Tharsis volcanic rise possibly playing a role through the burial of aquifers and induced global deformation. These results suggest that the deposits formed as a result of sustained groundwater upwelling and evaporation, rather than ponding within an enclosed basin. The evaporite formation coincided with a transition to more arid conditions6 that increased the relative impact of a deep-seated, global-scale hydrology on the surface evolution.
This is a preview of subscription content
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Squyres, S. W. et al. Two years at Meridiani Planum: Results from the Opportunity rover. Science 313, 1403–1407 (2006)
Squyres, S. W. et al. Overview of the Opportunity Mars Exploration Rover mission to Meridiani Planum: Eagle Crater to Purgatory Ripple. J. Geophys. Res. 111 E12S12 doi: 10.1029/2006JE002771 (2006)
Grotzinger, J. P. et al. Stratigraphy and sedimentology of a dry to wet eolian depositional system, Burns formation, Meridiani Planum, Mars. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 240, 11–72 (2005)
McLennan, S. M. et al. Provenance and diagenesis of the evaporite-bearing Burns formation, Meridiani Planum, Mars. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 240, 95–121 (2005)
Arvidson, R. E. et al. Nature and origin of the hematite-bearing plains of Terra Meridiani based on analyses of orbital and Mars Exploration Rover data sets. J. Geophys. Res. 111 E12S08 doi: 10.1029/2006JE002728 (2006)
Bibring, J. P. et al. Global mineralogical and aqueous Mars history derived from OMEGA/Mars Express data. Science 312, 400–404 (2006)
Pollack, J. B., Kasting, J. F., Richardson, S. M. & Poliakoff, K. The case for a wet, warm climate on early Mars. Icarus 71, 203–224 (1987)
Hynek, B. M. & Phillips, R. J. New data reveal mature, integrated drainage systems on Mars indicative of past precipitation. Geology 31, 757–760 (2003)
Baker, V. R. & Partridge, J. B. Small martian valleys: Pristine and degraded morphology. J. Geophys. Res. 84, 3561–3572 (1986)
Williams, R. M. E. & Phillips, R. J. Morphometric measurements of martian valley networks from Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) data. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 23737–23751 (2001)
Harrison, K. P. & Grimm, R. E. Groundwater-controlled valley networks and the decline of runoff on early Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 110 E12S16 doi: 10.1029/2005JE002455 (2005)
Hartmann, W. K. & Neukum, G. Cratering chronology and the evolution of Mars. Space Sci. Rev. 96, 165–194 (2001)
Hynek, B. M., Arvidson, R. E. & Phillips, R. J. Geologic setting and origin of the Terra Meridiani hematite deposit on Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 107 5088 doi: 10.1029/2002JE001891 (2002)
Phillips, R. J. & Hynek, B. M. THEMIS and MOLA provide 3-D stratigraphy in the Terra Meridiani region of Mars. Eos 86(Fall Meet.), abstr. P24A–04. (2005)
Smith, D. E. et al. Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA): Experiment summary after the first year of global mapping of Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 23689–23722 (2001)
Solomon, S. C. & Head, J. W. Evolution of the Tharsis province of Mars—The importance of heterogeneous lithospheric thickness and volcanic construction. J. Geophys. Res. 87, 9755–9774 (1982)
Phillips, R. J., Sleep, N. H. & Banerdt, W. B. Permanent uplift in magmatic systems with application to the Tharsis region of Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 95, 5089–5100 (1990)
Zuber, M. T. et al. Internal structure and early thermal evolution of Mars from Mars Global Surveyor topography and gravity. Science 287, 1788–1793 (2000)
Phillips, R. J. et al. Ancient geodynamics and global-scale hydrology on Mars. Science 291, 2587–2591 (2001)
Lane, M. D., Christensen, P. R. & Hartmann, W. K. Utilization of THEMIS visible and infrared imaging data for crater population studies of the Meridiani Planum landing site. Geophys. Res. Lett. 30 1770 doi: 10.1029/2003GL017183 (2003)
Edgett, K. S. The sedimentary rocks of Sinus Meridiani: Five key observations from data acquired by the Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey orbiters. Mars 1 doi: 10.1555/mars.2005.0002 (2005)
Hanna, J. C. & Phillips, R. J. Hydrological modeling of the Martian crust with application to the pressurization of aquifers. J. Geophys. Res. 110 E01004 doi: 10.1029/2004JE002330 (2005)
Deming, D., Nunn, J. A. & Evans, D. G. Thermal effects of compaction-driven flow from overthrust belts. J. Geophys. Res. 95, 6669–6683 (1990)
Banerdt, W. B. Support of long-wavelength loads on Venus and implications for internal structure. J. Geophys. Res. 91, 403–419 (1986)
Malin, M. P. & Edgett, K. S. Ancient sedimentary rocks of early Mars. Science 290, 1927–1937 (2000)
Handford, C. R. in Evaporites, Petroleum, and Mineral Resources (ed. Melvin, J. L.) 1–66 (Elsevier, New York, 1991)
Moller, P. et al. Paleofluids and recent fluids in the upper continental crust: Results from the German Continental Deep Drilling Program (KTB). J. Geophys. Res. 102, 18233–18254 (1997)
Hynek, B. M. Implications for hydrologic processes on Mars from extensive bedrock outcrops throughout Terra Meridiani. Nature 431, 156–159 (2004)
Smoot, J. P. & Lowenstein, T. K. in Evaporites, Petroleum, and Mineral Resources (ed. Melvin, J. L.) 189–347 (Elsevier, New York, 1991)
Habermehl, M. A. The Great Artesian Basin, Australia. J. Austr. Geol. Geophys. 5, 9–38 (1980)
This work was supported in part by the NASA Planetary Geology and Geophysics Program and the NASA Mars Data Analysis Program, both at Washington University. We thank B. Banerdt for use of his spherical harmonic loading model.
Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints. The authors declare no competing financial interests.
This file contains Supplementary Equation 1 and Supplementary Figures S1-S2 with Legends. Supplementary Equation 1 gives the equation used in the hydrological modeling. Supplementary Figure S1 illustrates the hydrological effects of Tharsis growth in schematic format. Supplementary Figure S2 presents the assumed rate of Tharsis growth and BPT migration, and the flux of water from the buried aquifers as a function of time used in the model. (PDF 321 kb)
About this article
Cite this article
Andrews-Hanna, J., Phillips, R. & Zuber, M. Meridiani Planum and the global hydrology of Mars. Nature 446, 163–166 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05594
Understanding genesis of iron oxide concretions present in Dhandraul (Vindhyan) Sandstone: Implications in formation of Martian hematite spherules
Journal of Earth System Science (2021)
Remote Sensing of Mars: Detection of Impact Craters on the Mars Global Surveyor DTM by Integrating Edge- and Region-Based Algorithms
Earth, Moon, and Planets (2018)
Desulfohalophilus alkaliarsenatis gen. nov., sp. nov., an extremely halophilic sulfate- and arsenate-respiring bacterium from Searles Lake, California
Nature Geoscience (2010)
Nature Geoscience (2009)