Mineralogical characterization of acid weathered phyllosilicates with implications for secondary martian deposits

by Altheide, Travis S.; Chevrier, Vincent F.; Dobrea, Eldar Noe

The detection of phyllosilicates and sulfates on Mars has revealed a complex aqueous history which suggests distinct geochemical environments separated temporally and spatially. Recent observations by MRO CRISM in Mawrth Vallis have shown that phyllosilicate deposits exhibit a specific stratigraphy, which remains incompletely understood. Moreover, MER Spirit has evidenced association between phyllosilicates, amorphous silica and sulfates. We investigated the hypothesis that these parageneses resulted from the acidic weathering of older phyllosilicate deposits. We exposed nontronite (Fe-rich smectite), montmorillonite (Al-rich smectite) and kaolinite to H2SO4 solutions at pH 0, 2 and 4, and at a temperature of 60 degrees C. After the acid treatment, a combination of mineralogical techniques was used to assess the degree of alteration of the three phyllosilicate minerals. XRF, XRD and ESEM measurements show that nontronite was the most unstable when acid leached, followed by montmorillonite and then kaolinite. Progressive acidic leaching of nontronite leads to alteration of the phyllosilicate to amorphous silica, along with Fe-sulfate and anatase, and the formation of an acidic Al,Fe-rich solution. Alteration of montmorillonite resulted in the formation of Fe-, Al-, Ca- and Mg-sulfates, and a Al-rich leaching solution. Comparatively, leaching of kaolinite resulted in the formation of Al-sulfates and a Al-rich solution as well, with only slight alteration of the primary mineralogical features. The effects of acid leaching of the phyllosilicates were also observed in NIR reflectance spectra, allowing a comparison with CRISM spectra from Mawrth Vallis. Based on our results, we propose a new model where acid leaching of mixed phyllosilicate deposits leads to kaolinite overlaying montmorillonite, which in turn caps Fe,Mg-smectites. Leaching of cations and subsequent evaporation leads to sulfate deposits, as supported by geochemical modeling, while amorphous silica remains as a residue. Depending on the intensity (pH) and length of exposure of acidic leaching, our model can explain the stratigraphic distribution of phyllosilicates, and the association of sulfates, silica and smectites.

Geochimica Et Cosmochimica Acta
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