Abstract

The discovery of phyllosilicates in terrains of Noachian age (>3.5 Ga) on Mars implies a period in the planet’s history that was characterized by wetter, warmer conditions that may have been more hospitable for life than the cold and dry conditions prevalent today. More specific information about the original locations and mechanisms of clay mineral formation on Mars is not as well constrained, however, in part because the origin of particular clay minerals is often non-unique. For example, Fe and Mg smectite-bearing deposits on Mars may have formed in various environments, including the weathering profiles of basic volcanic rocks, impact-induced hydrothermal sites, or in bodies of standing water. The identification of lacustrine deposits on Mars is of great interest due to their potential for the preservation of organic material, but identifying any given suite of sedimentary rocks as such is difficult when limited to mineralogy and morphology derived from orbital data. Here, the processes and conditions leading to clay mineral formation in lakes and evaporative marine basins on Earth are reviewed, with a focus on the spatial and stratigraphic distribution of clays in these settings. The goal is to provide criteria to determine if certain Martian clay deposits are consistent with such an origin, which in turn will aid in the identification of possible ancient habitable environments on Mars.

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