October 14, 2014

Geologic context of in situ rocky exposures in Mare Serpentis, Mars:Implications for crust and regolith evolution in the cratered highlands

A.D. Rogers, O. Aharonson , J.L. Bandfield
Icarus, 446–462

Summary: Global acquisition of infrared spectra and high-resolution visible and infrared imagery has enabled the placement of compositional information within stratigraphic and geologic context. Mare Serpentis, a low albedo region located northwest of Hellas Basin, is rich in spectral and thermophysical diversity and host to numerous isolated exposures of in situ rocky material. Most martian surfaces are dominated by fine-grained particulate materials that bear an uncertain compositional and spatial relationship to their source. Thus location and characterization of in situ rock exposures is important for understanding the origin of highland materials and the processes which have modified those materials. Using spectral, thermophysical and morphologic information, we assess the local and regional stratigraphy of the Mare Serpentis surface in an effort to reconstruct the geologic history of the region. The martian highlands in Mare Serpentis are dominated by two interspersed surface units, which have distinct compositional and thermophysical properties: (1) rock-dominated surfaces relatively enriched in olivine and pyroxene, and depleted in high-silica phases, and (2) sediment or indurated material depleted in olivine and pyroxene, with relatively higher abundance of high-silica phases. This is a major, previously unrecognized trend which appears to be pervasive in the Mare Serpentis region and possibly in other highland areas. The detailed observations have led us to form two hypotheses for the relationship between these two units: either (1) they are related through a widespread mechanical and/or chemical alteration process, where less-mafic plains materials are derived from the mafic bedrock, but have been compositionally altered in the process of regolith formation, or (2) they are stratigraphically distinct units representing separate episodes of upper crust formation. Existing observations suggest that the second scenario is more likely. In this scenario, plains materials represent older, degraded, and possibly altered, "basement" rock, whereas the rocky exposures represent later additions to the crust and are probably volcanic in origin. These hypotheses should be further testable with decimeter-resolution imagery and meter-resolution short wavelength infrared spectra.