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Thermal history of Mars inferred from orbital geochemistry of volcanic provinces

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 22 June 2011

This article has been updated


Reconstruction of the geological history of Mars has been the focus of considerable attention over the past four decades, with important discoveries being made about variations in surface conditions1. However, despite a significant increase in the amount of data related to the morphology, mineralogy and chemistry of the martian surface, there is no clear global picture of how magmatism has evolved over time and how these changes relate to the internal workings and thermal evolution of the planet. Here we present geochemical data derived from the Gamma Ray Spectrometer on board NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft2, focusing on twelve major volcanic provinces of variable age. Our analysis reveals clear trends in composition that are found to be consistent with varying degrees of melting of the martian mantle. There is evidence for thickening of the lithosphere (17–25 km Gyr−1) associated with a decrease in mantle potential temperature over time (30–40 K Gyr−1). Our inferred thermal history of Mars, unlike that of the Earth, is consistent with simple models of mantle convection3,4,5,6.

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Figure 1: Selected volcanic provinces represented over a shaded relief map of Mars.
Figure 2: Abundances of silica, thorium and iron oxide for the 12 selected areas shown in Fig. 1 .
Figure 3: Pressure and degree of partial melting for each volcanic province.
Figure 4: Lithosphere thickness as a function of mantle potential temperature estimated from pressure and degree of partial melting.
Figure 5: Mantle temperature variation as a function of the ages of Hesperian volcanism ( t1) and Amazonian volcanism ( t2).

Change history

  • 22 June 2011

    Figure 4 has been corrected in the original HTML and PDF and in the accompanying Corrigendum.


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H. Y. McSween Jr is thanked for his formal review. This work was financially supported by the Programme National de Planétologie of INSU-CNRS.

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D.B. and M.J.T. performed calculations of melt–solid equilibria, M.M. and D.B. performed calculations of thermal evolution and O.G. provided expertise concerning the GRS data. All authors participated in the writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to David Baratoux.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Baratoux, D., Toplis, M., Monnereau, M. et al. Thermal history of Mars inferred from orbital geochemistry of volcanic provinces. Nature 472, 338–341 (2011).

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