Basalt weathering rates on Earth and the duration of liquid water on the plains of Gusev Crater, Mars

Elisabeth M. Hausrath, Alexis K. Navarre-Sitchler, Peter B. Sak, Carl I. Steefel, Susan L. Brantley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Where Martian rocks have been exposed to liquid water, chemistry versus depth profiles could elucidate both Martian climate history and potential for life. The persistence of primary minerals in weathered profiles constrains the exposure time to liquid water: on Earth, mineral persistence times range from ∼10 k.y. (olivine) to ∼250 k.y. (glass) to ∼1 m.y. (pyroxene) to ∼5 m.y. (plagioclase). Such persistence times suggest mineral persistence minima on Mars. However, Martian solutions may have been more acidic than on Earth. Relative mineral weathering rates observed for basalt in Svalbard (Norway) and Costa Rica demonstrate that laboratory pH trends can be used to estimate exposure to liquid water both qualitatively (mineral absence or presence) and quantitatively (using reactive transport models). Qualitatively, if the Martian solution pH >∼2, glass should persist longer than olivine; therefore, persistence of glass may be a pH indicator. With evidence for the pH of weathering, the reactive transport code CrunchFlow can quantitatively calculate the minimum duration of exposure to liquid water consistent with a chemical profile. For the profile measured on the surface of the exposed Martian rock known as Humphrey in Gusev Crater, the calculated exposure time is 22 k.y., which is a minimum due to physical erosion. If correct, this estimate is consistent with short-term, episodic alteration accompanied by ongoing surface erosion. More of these depth profiles should be measured to illuminate the weathering history of Mars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-70
Number of pages4
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geology


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