Lunar regional dark mantle deposits: Geologic, multispectral, and modeling studies


  • Catherine M. Weitz,

  • James W. Head III,

  • Carle M. Pieters


Clementine five-channel UV-visible (UVVIS) data have been used to study seven regional dark mantle deposits (DMDs) on the Moon. The DMDs were mapped in distribution to determine their extent and stratigraphic relationship to other geologic units. Based upon the spectral properties for each DMD, the crystallization of the beads in each deposit was inferred and used to estimate cooling rates in the volcanic plumes that emplaced the deposits. Deposits with a high concentration of glasses reflect volcanic plumes that had low optical densities and high cooling rates, whereas deposits dominated by crystallized beads indicate plumes with slower cooling rates due to higher optical densities. Spectral data from each of the regional DMDs show that their glass:crystallized bead ratio can be estimated based upon their 415/750 and 750/950 nm values and comparison to laboratory spectra for the beads. Patches of young dark mantle in the Sinus Aestuum DMD represent one extreme with the bluest color (highest 415/750) and weakest glass band absorption (lowest 750/950) of all the DMDs. At the other extreme is the Aristarchus Plateau DMD with the reddest color and strongest glass band absorption. The other nearside DMDs, including Taurus-Littrow, Sulpicius Gallus, Rima Bode, and Mare Vaporum lie between these two extremes due to intermediate mixtures of the crystallized beads and glasses with other local soils. The Orientale Ring DMD on the western limb is dominated by volcanic glasses and is spectrally similar to the localized DMDs found in Alphonsus crater. We have identified a central vent for the Orientale Ring DMD and model the eruption as degassing of a near-surface dike to produce a 20-km-high umbrella-shaped plume with ejection velocities of 360 m/s and deposition of the glasses at an average radius of 80 km from the vent. Although we cannot identify the exact sources for the other regional DMDs (probably because they are buried beneath younger mare), the eruptions most likely resulted from dikes breaching the surface and producing a volcanic plume dominated by larger (greater than submillimeter) hot clasts that formed mare and sinuous rules. The small percent of clasts that form the volcanic beads are carried by the expanding gas cloud to large distances, in some cases >100 km, to produce the observed continuous regional DMDs. The lack of basalt samples that can be petrologically related to the volcanic glasses may be a result of their spatial separation, with the basalts flowing into the basins while the beads are deposited both into the basins and on the adjacent highlands.