Efflorescence As a Source of Hydrated Sulfate Minerals in Valley Settings on Mars


A distinctive sulfur cycle dominates many geological processes on Mars and hydrated sulfate minerals are found in numerous topographic settings with widespread occurrences on the Martian surface. However, many of the key processes controlling the hydrological transport of sulfur, including sulfur sources, climate and the depositional history that led to precipitation of these minerals, remain unclear. In this paper, we use a model for the formation of sulfate efflorescent salts (Mg-Ca-Na sulfates) in the Rio Puerco watershed of New Mexico, a terrestrial analog site from the semiarid Southwest U.S., to assess the origin and environmental conditions that may have controlled deposition of hydrated sulfates in Valles Marineris on Mars. Our terrestrial geochemical results (δ34S of -36.0 to +11.1‰) show that an ephemeral arid hydrological cycle that mobilizes sulfur present in the bedrock as sulfides, sulfate minerals, and dry/wet atmospheric deposition can lead to widespread surface accumulations of hydrated sulfate efflorescences. Repeating cycles of salt dissolution and reprecipitation appear to be major processes that migrate sulfate efflorescences to sites of surface deposition and ultimately increase the aqueous SO42- flux along the watershed (average 41,273 metric tons/yr). We suggest that similar shallow processes may explain the occurrence of hydrated sulfates detected on the scarps and valley floors of Valles Marineris on Mars. Our estimates of salt mass and distribution are in accord with studies that suggest a rather short-lived process of sulfate formation (minimum rough estimate ~100 to 1000 years) and restriction by prevailing arid conditions on Mars.


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Deposition; Drying; Efflorescence; Hydration; Meteorological problems; Sulfur; Sulfur compounds; Surface chemistry; Water; Watersheds; Arid climates; Atmospheric depositions; Controlled deposition; Environmental conditions; Hydrological cycles; Mars; Sulfate; Surface accumulation; Process control; arid environment; deposition; geochemistry; hydrological cycle; sulfate group; sulfur cycle; New Mexico; Puerco River; United States; Arid climate

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Article - Journal

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© 2014 Elsevier, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 May 2014