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Authors: Sgavetti, M.* 
Pompilio, L.* 
Roveri, M.* 
Manzi, V.* 
Valentino, G. M.* 
Lugli, S.* 
Carli, C.* 
Amici, Stefania* 
Marchese, F.* 
Lacava, T.* 
Title: Two geologic systems providing terrestrial analogues for the exploration of sulfate deposits on Mars: Initial spectral characterization
Issue Date: 2009
Series/Report no.: /57 (2009)
DOI: 10.1016/j.pss.2008.05.010
Abstract: We present the Messinian evaporite suite (Mediterranean region) and the Solfatara hydrothermal system (Phlegraean Fields volcanic province, Italy), discuss their implications for understanding the origin of sulfates on Mars and show preliminary sets of VNIR laboratory and in situ reflectance spectra of rocks from these geologic systems. The choice was based on a number of evidence relative to Mars: (1) the chemistry of the Martian sulfates, suggesting fluid interactions with possibly alkali-basaltic rocks and/or regolith; (2) close range evidence of sulfates within sedimentary formations on Mars; (3) sulfate spectral signatures associated to large-scale layered patterns interpreted as thick depositional systems on Mars. The Messinian evaporites comprise three units: primary shallow-water sulfates (primary lower gypsum: PLG), shallow- to deep-water mixed sulfates and clastic terrigenous deposits (resedimented lower gypsum: RLG), and shallow-water associations of primary sulfates and clastic fluvio-deltaic deposits (upper evaporites: UE). The onset of the Messinian evaporites records the transition to negative hydrologic budget conditions associated with the Messinian Salinity Crisis, which affected the entire Mediterranean basin and lasted about 640 kyr. The Solfatara is a still evolving hydrothermal system that provides epithermal deposits precipitated from the interaction of fluids and trachybasaltic to phonolitic rocks. Thermal waters include alkali-chloride, alkali-carbonate and alkalisulfate endmembers. The wide spectrum of sedimentary gypsum facies within the Messinian formation includes some of the depositional environments hitherto identified on Mars and others not found on Mars. The PLG unit includes facies associations correlated over long distances, that could be a possible analog of the stratified rock units exposed from Arabia Terra at least as far as Valles Marineris. The facies cycles within the UE unit can be compared to the sequences of strata observed in craters such as Holden and Eberswalden. The UE unit records paleoenvironmental changes which are ultimately controlled by terrestrial climatic variations. They can be considered as a reliable climatic proxy and may be useful for the reconstruction of climatic events on Mars. The intermediate Messinian RLG unit has not, at present, a well-defined depositional counterpart on Mars, although there are some similarities with the northern lowlands and Vastitas Borealis Formation. The dramatic variation of hydrologic budget conditions at the onset of the Messinian evaporites may provide criteria for the interpretation of similar variations on Mars. The volcanic rocks at the Solfatara bear some similarities with the ‘‘alkaline magmatic province’’ observed at the Gusev crater on Mars, and the assemblages of hydrothermal phases resulting from the Solfatara’s parent rocks could be analogues for processes involving Gusev-type rocks. The Messinian sulfates have a prevalent Ca-sulfatic composition and wide textural variability. Preliminary laboratory reflectance spectra of rock samples in the VNIR region reveal the signature of sulfates and mixtures of several Fe-bearing phases. At the Solfatara, in situ reflectance measurements of epithermal minerals close to active fumaroles showed the presence of Fe-bearing sulfates,hematite, Al- and K-sulfates and abundant amorphous fraction. XRD analysis supported this interpretation. The range of depositional facies observed in the Messinian units and the variety of minerals detected in the Solfatara will be useful for the interpretation of close range data of Mars. The spectral characterization at various scales of the Messinian sedimentary facies and the Solfatara hydrothermal minerals will both help in the exploration of Mars from orbit and with close range inspection
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