Abstract

Small deposits of chloride salts have been documented at hundreds of locations on Mars through the use of multispectral orbital data. Given the small spatial extent of these deposits, their formation mechanisms, timing, and relation to other aqueous processes in Mars’ history are presently poorly constrained. Here we detail one of the chloride deposits near Meridiani Planum, the location of the Opportunity rover. This chloride deposit likely formed from fluviolacustrine processes, implying an active hydrologic cycle. Late-stage activity led to valley incision in the surrounding highlands and ponding of water to form a lake in a local basin. The lake level eventually rose and breached the drainage divide, leading to significant outflow. The remaining water evaporated and eventually precipitated the chlorides at the lowest levels. Through digital terrain models, the lake and salt flat volumes were used to calculate the salinity of the lake, which at full lake extent was ∼8% of the salinity of Earth’s oceans. Crater density measurements on the terrain cross-cut by the outlet valley constrain the maximum age to 3.60 Ga. This hydrological episode occurred after regional widespread fluvial incision and also post-dates formation of the sulfate bedrock being investigated by Opportunity. We conclude that this and other similar chloride deposits represent some of the last vestiges of habitable surface water on Mars as recorded in the mineralogical record.

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