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Low Hesperian P_(CO2) constrained from in situ mineralogical analysis at Gale Crater, Mars

Bristow, Thomas F. and Haberle, Robert M. and Blake, David F. and Des Marais, David J. and Eigenbrode, Jennifer L. and Fairén, Alberto G. and Grotzinger, John P. and Stack, Kathryn M. and Mischna, Michael A. and Rampe, Elizabeth B. and Siebach, Kirsten L. and Sutter, Brad and Vaniman, David T. and Vasavada, Ashwin R. (2017) Low Hesperian P_(CO2) constrained from in situ mineralogical analysis at Gale Crater, Mars. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114 (9). pp. 2166-2170. ISSN 0027-8424. PMCID PMC5338541.

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Carbon dioxide is an essential atmospheric component in martian climate models that attempt to reconcile a faint young sun with planetwide evidence of liquid water in the Noachian and Early Hesperian. In this study, we use mineral and contextual sedimentary environmental data measured by the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Rover Curiosity to estimate the atmospheric partial pressure of CO_2 (P_(CO2)) coinciding with a long-lived lake system in Gale Crater at ∼3.5 Ga. A reaction–transport model that simulates mineralogy observed within the Sheepbed member at Yellowknife Bay (YKB), by coupling mineral equilibria with carbonate precipitation kinetics and rates of sedimentation, indicates atmospheric P_(CO2) levels in the 10s mbar range. At such low P_(CO2) levels, existing climate models are unable to warm Hesperian Mars anywhere near the freezing point of water, and other gases are required to raise atmospheric pressure to prevent lake waters from being lost to the atmosphere. Thus, either lacustrine features of Gale formed in a cold environment by a mechanism yet to be determined, or the climate models still lack an essential component that would serve to elevate surface temperatures, at least locally, on Hesperian Mars. Our results also impose restrictions on the potential role of atmospheric CO_2 in inferred warmer conditions and valley network formation of the late Noachian.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription DOIArticle Information CentralArticle
Bristow, Thomas F.0000-0001-6725-0555
Blake, David F.0000-0002-0834-4487
Eigenbrode, Jennifer L.0000-0003-3089-1986
Grotzinger, John P.0000-0001-9324-1257
Stack, Kathryn M.0000-0003-3444-6695
Mischna, Michael A.0000-0002-8022-5319
Rampe, Elizabeth B.0000-0002-6999-0028
Siebach, Kirsten L.0000-0002-6628-6297
Sutter, Brad0000-0002-3036-170X
Vaniman, David T.0000-0001-7661-2626
Vasavada, Ashwin R.0000-0003-2665-286X
Additional Information:© 2017 National Academy of Sciences. Freely available online through the PNAS open access option. Edited by Mark H. Thiemens, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, and approved December 27, 2016 (received for review October 6, 2016). Published ahead of print February 6, 2017. We acknowledge the support of the Jet Propulsion Lab engineering and MSL operations staff. Thanks to K. Zahnle, E. Kite, and M. Daswani for discussions, and constructive reviews from I. Halevy, J. Kasting, P. Niles, and two anonymous reviewers on this and a previous version of the manuscript. We thank P. Sadler for advice and access to sedimentation rate data. Modeling efforts were supported by a NASA Habitable Worlds grant (T.F.B.). This work was supported by the Project “icyMARS” European Research Council Starting Grant 307496 (to A.G.F.). This research was supported by the NASA Mars Exploration Program. Some of this research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Author contributions: T.F.B., D.F.B., J.P.G., D.T.V., and A.R.V. designed research; T.F.B. performed research; T.F.B., R.M.H., D.F.B., D.J.D.M., J.L.E., A.G.F., J.P.G., K.M.S., M.A.M., E.B.R., K.L.S., B.S., D.T.V., and A.R.V. analyzed data; and T.F.B. wrote the paper. The authors declare no conflict of interest. This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. This article contains supporting information online at
Funding AgencyGrant Number
European Research Council (ERC)307496
Subject Keywords:Hesperian Mars; martian atmosphere; Mars Science Laboratory; Gale Crater; carbon dioxide
Issue or Number:9
PubMed Central ID:PMC5338541
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170207-103345859
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Thomas F. Bristow, Robert M. Haberle, David F. Blake, David J. Des Marais, Jennifer L. Eigenbrode, Alberto G. Fairén, John P. Grotzinger, Kathryn M. Stack, Michael A. Mischna, Elizabeth B. Rampe, Kirsten L. Siebach, Brad Sutter, David T. Vaniman, and Ashwin R. Vasavada Low Hesperian PCO2 constrained from in situ mineralogical analysis at Gale Crater, Mars PNAS 2017 114 (9) 2166-2170; published ahead of print February 6, 2017, doi:10.1073/pnas.1616649114
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:74131
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:07 Feb 2017 19:55
Last Modified:09 Mar 2020 13:19

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