Geochemical and mineralogical interpretation of the Viking inorganic chemical results


  • Priestley Toulmin III,

  • A. K. Baird,

  • B. C. Clark,

  • Klaus Keil,

  • H. J. Rose Jr.,

  • R. P. Christian,

  • P. H. Evans,

  • W. C. Kelliher


The elemental analyses whose basis is described in the preceding two papers represent the composition of samples of Martian fines; the only undetermined major constituents thought to be present are H2O, CO2, Na2O, and possibly NOx. The samples are principally silicate particles, with some admixture of oxide and probably carbonate minerals; the fines appear to have been indurated to a variable degree by a sulfate-rich intergranular cement. The overall elemental composition is dissimilar to any single known mineral or rock type and apparently represents a mixture of materials. Close chemical similarity among samples at each site, and between the two sites, indicates effective homogenization of the fines, presumably by planetary windstorms, and further suggests that the samples analyzed represent the fine, mobilizable materials over a large part of the planet's surface. Low trace element, alkali, and alumina contents suggest that the great preponderance of the materials in the mixture is of mafic derivation; highly differentiated, salic igneous rocks or their weathering products are insignificant components of the samples. Normative calculations, comparisons with reference libraries of analytical data, and mathematical mixture modeling have led to a qualitative mineralogical model in which the fines consist largely of iron-rich smectites (or their degradation products), carbonates, iron oxides, probably in part maghemite, and sulfate minerals concentrated in a surface duricrust. The original smectites may have formed by interaction of mafic magma and subsurface ice, and the sulfates (and carbonates?) may have been concentrated in the surface crust by subsurface leaching, upward transport, and evaporation of intergranular moisture films. Testing and refinement of this and competing models will accompany continuing acquisition of samples and data and refinement of the analyses, particularly with respect to the critical light elements Mg, Al, and Si.