Formation of Magnesium Carbonates on Earth and Implications for Mars

Eva L. Scheller, Carl Swindle, John Grotzinger, Holly Barnhart, Surjyendu Bhattacharjee, Bethany L. Ehlmann, Ken Farley, Woodward W. Fischer, Rebecca Greenberger, Miquela Ingalls, Peter E. Martin, Daniela Osorio-Rodriguez, Ben P. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Magnesium carbonates have been identified within the landing site of the Perseverance rover mission. This study reviews terrestrial analog environments and textural, mineral assemblage, isotopic, and elemental analyses that have been applied to establish formation conditions of magnesium carbonates. Magnesium carbonates form in five distinct settings: ultramafic rock-hosted veins, the matrix of carbonated peridotite, nodules in soil, alkaline lake, and playa deposits, and as diagenetic replacements within lime—and dolostones. Dominant textures include fine-grained or microcrystalline veins, nodules, and crusts. Microbial influences on formation are recorded in thrombolites, stromatolites, crinkly, and pustular laminites, spheroids, and filamentous microstructures. Mineral assemblages, fluid inclusions, and carbon, oxygen, magnesium, and clumped isotopes of carbon and oxygen have been used to determine the sources of carbon, magnesium, and fluid for magnesium carbonates as well as their temperatures of formation. Isotopic signatures in ultramafic rock-hosted magnesium carbonates reveal that they form by either low-temperature meteoric water infiltration and alteration, hydrothermal alteration, or metamorphic processes. Isotopic compositions of lacustrine magnesium carbonate record precipitation from lake water, evaporation processes, and ambient formation temperatures. Assessment of these features with similar analytical techniques applied to returned Martian samples can establish whether carbonates on ancient Mars were formed at high or low temperature conditions in the surface or subsurface through abiotic or biotic processes. The timing of carbonate formation processes could be constrained by 147Sm-143Nd isochron, U-Pb concordia, 207Pb-206Pb isochron radiometric dating as well as 3He, 21Ne, 22Ne, or 36Ar surface exposure dating of returned Martian magnesium carbonate samples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021JE006828
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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