Abstract

Fluviolacustrine sediments filling Gale Crater on Mars show two levels of former exposure and weathering that provide new insights into late Noachian (3.7 ± 0.3 Ga) paleoenvironments of Mars. Diagnostic features of the two successive paleosols in the Sheepbed member include complex cracking patterns of surface dilation (peds and cutans), a clayey surface (A horizon), deep sand-filled cracks with vertical lamination (sand wedges), and replacive sulfate nodules aggregated into distinct bands (gypsic By horizon) above bedded sandy layers (sedimentary C horizon). Shallow gypsic horizon, periglacial sand wedges, and limited chemical weathering are evidence of a hyperarid frigid paleoclimate, and this alternated with wetter conditions for the lacustrine parent materials in Gale Crater during the late Noachian. Depletion of phosphorus, vesicular structure, and replacive gypsic horizons of these Martian paleosols are features of habitable microbial earth soils on Earth, and encourage further search for definitive evidence of early life on Mars.

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