Identification of hydrated silicate minerals on Mars using MRO-CRISM: Geologic context near Nili Fossae and implications for aqueous alteration



[1] The Noachian terrain west of the Isidis basin hosts a diverse collection of alteration minerals in rocks comprising varied geomorphic units within a 100,000 km2 region in and near the Nili Fossae. Prior investigations in this region by the Observatoire pour l'Minéralogie, l'Eau, les Glaces, et l'Activité (OMEGA) instrument on Mars Express revealed large exposures of both mafic minerals and iron magnesium phyllosilicates in stratigraphic context. Expanding on the discoveries of OMEGA, the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has found more spatially widespread and mineralogically diverse alteration minerals than previously realized, which represent multiple aqueous environments. Using CRISM near-infrared spectral data, we detail the basis for identification of iron and magnesium smectites (including both nontronite and more Mg-rich varieties), chlorite, prehnite, serpentine, kaolinite, potassium mica (illite or muscovite), hydrated (opaline) silica, the sodium zeolite analcime, and magnesium carbonate. The detection of serpentine and analcime on Mars is reported here for the first time. We detail the geomorphic context of these minerals using data from high-resolution imagers onboard MRO in conjunction with CRISM. We find that the distribution of alteration minerals is not homogeneous; rather, they occur in provinces with distinctive assemblages of alteration minerals. Key findings are (1) a distinctive stratigraphy, in and around the Nili Fossae, of kaolinite and magnesium carbonate in bedrock units always overlying Fe/Mg smectites and (2) evidence for mineral phases and assemblages indicative of low-grade metamorphic or hydrothermal aqueous alteration in cratered terrains. The alteration minerals around the Nili Fossae are more typical of those resulting from neutral to alkaline conditions rather than acidic conditions, which appear to have dominated much of Mars. Moreover, the mineralogic diversity and geologic context of alteration minerals found in the region around the Nili Fossae indicates several episodes of aqueous activity in multiple distinct environments.