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Groundwater activity on Mars and implications for a deep biosphere

Nature Geoscience volume 6, pages 133138 (2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

By the time eukaryotic life or photosynthesis evolved on Earth, the martian surface had become extremely inhospitable, but the subsurface of Mars could potentially have contained a vast microbial biosphere. Crustal fluids may have welled up from the subsurface to alter and cement surface sediments, potentially preserving clues to subsurface habitability. Here we present a conceptual model of subsurface habitability of Mars and evaluate evidence for groundwater upwelling in deep basins. Many ancient, deep basins lack evidence for groundwater activity. However, McLaughlin Crater, one of the deepest craters on Mars, contains evidence for Mg–Fe-bearing clays and carbonates that probably formed in an alkaline, groundwater-fed lacustrine setting. This environment strongly contrasts with the acidic, water-limited environments implied by the presence of sulphate deposits that have previously been suggested to form owing to groundwater upwelling. Deposits formed as a result of groundwater upwelling on Mars, such as those in McLaughlin Crater, could preserve critical evidence of a deep biosphere on Mars. We suggest that groundwater upwelling on Mars may have occurred sporadically on local scales, rather than at regional or global scales.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Clifford and K. Lewis for comments that greatly improved the manuscript. We acknowledge NASA’s Mars Data Analysis Program and the European Commission Marie Curie Actions for funding of various portions of this research.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK

    • Joseph R. Michalski
    •  & Javier Cuadros
  2. Planetary Science Institute, 1700 E. Fort Lowell, Tucson, Arizona 85719, USA

    • Joseph R. Michalski
  3. NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas 77058, USA

    • Paul B. Niles
  4. University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3UE, UK

    • John Parnell
  5. SUNY Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York 11794, USA

    • A. Deanne Rogers
  6. Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama 36849, USA

    • Shawn P. Wright

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Contributions

J.R.M. conceived of project, processed most of the data, and wrote most of the manuscript. J.P., P.B.N. and J.C. wrote portions of the paper. A.D.R. contributed analyses of the thermal infrared data and S.P.W. contributed analyses of impact deposits.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joseph R. Michalski.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1706

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