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Published November 3, 2011 | Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Subsurface water and clay mineral formation during the early history of Mars


Clay minerals, recently discovered to be widespread in Mars's Noachian terrains, indicate long-duration interaction between water and rock over 3.7 billion years ago. Analysis of how they formed should indicate what environmental conditions prevailed on early Mars. If clays formed near the surface by weathering, as is common on Earth, their presence would indicate past surface conditions warmer and wetter than at present. However, available data instead indicate substantial Martian clay formation by hydrothermal groundwater circulation and a Noachian rock record dominated by evidence of subsurface waters. Cold, arid conditions with only transient surface water may have characterized Mars's surface for over 4 billion years, since the early-Noachian period, and the longest-duration aqueous, potentially habitable environments may have been in the subsurface.

Additional Information

© 2011 Macmillan Publisher Limited. Published online 02 November 2011. Thanks to J. Catalano and C. Fassett for detailed feedback on earlier versions of this work; to R. Arvidson, J. Carter, J. Michalski, F. Poulet and M. Vincendon for science discussions; and to the Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter teams for their data collection efforts. Author Contributions: B.L.E. compiled the data sets and led formulation of the manuscript text and figures and the concepts therein. J.F.M. contributed to the text and to the development of hypotheses and scenarios early in manuscript development. S.L.M. contributed to the text and figures and was instrumental in leading data set collection. J.-P.B. and A.M. contributed to formulation of key ideas in the manuscript regarding timing of clay formation relative to other events in Martian history (J.-P.B.) and methods used for assessing clay formation environment (A.M.). A.A.F and Y.L. helped with text formulation and structure, and A.A.F. provided her database with analyses of hundreds of CRISM images for incorporation.

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