Detailed information about the chemical composition and evolution of Mars has been derived principally from the SNC (shergottite–nakhlite–chassignite) meteorites, which are genetically related igneous rocks of Martian origin1,2. They are chemically and texturally similar to terrestrial basalts and cumulates, except that they have higher concentrations of iron and volatile elements such as phosphorus and chlorine and lower concentrations of nickel and other chalcophile (sulphur-loving) elements3. Most Martian meteorites have relatively young crystallization ages (1.4 billion years to 180 million years ago4) and are considered to be derived from young, lightly cratered volcanic regions, such as the Tharsis plateau4,5. Surface rocks from the Gusev crater analysed by the Spirit rover are much older (about 3.7 billion years old6) and exhibit marked compositional differences from the meteorites7. Although also basaltic in composition, the surface rocks are richer in nickel and sulphur and have lower manganese/iron ratios than the meteorites. This has led to doubts that Mars can be described adequately using the ‘SNC model’. Here we show, however, that the differences between the compositions of meteorites and surface rocks can be explained by differences in the oxygen fugacity during melting of the same sulphur-rich mantle. This ties the sources of Martian meteorites to those of the surface rocks through an early (>3.7 billion years ago) oxidation of the uppermost mantle that had less influence on the deeper regions, which produce the more recent volcanic rocks.
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We acknowledge support from the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (grant ST/G00272X/1) and from the European Research Council (grant 267764).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Tuff, J., Wade, J. & Wood, B. Volcanism on Mars controlled by early oxidation of the upper mantle. Nature 498, 342–345 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12225
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