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A Multi-Disciplinary Approach: How Aqueous Minerals Hold the Key to Understanding the Climate and Habitability of Terrestrial Planets


Scheller, Eva Linghan (2022) A Multi-Disciplinary Approach: How Aqueous Minerals Hold the Key to Understanding the Climate and Habitability of Terrestrial Planets. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/8rj3-6k52.


Understanding the interplay between geological processes and the climate within the ancient pasts of terrestrial planets holds the key to deciphering what makes terrestrial planets habitable. The climates of both Mars and Earth were drastically different in their ancient pasts. Liquid water once flowed on Mars ~3-4 Ga, creating fluvial valleys and aqueous minerals, until Mars dried out to the desert planet we know today. During the Pleistocene (~ 2.6 Ma – 11.7 ka) and Neoproterozoic (640-710 Ma), Earth experienced widespread glaciations and even a global glaciated state, respectively. Aqueous minerals, such as clays and carbonates, record the history of their aqueous environments and can be used to track these dramatic changes in climate and environment. In Chapter 2, I use hyperspectral infrared imagery and high resolution images retrieved by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to characterize the lithology of some of the oldest Noachian ~3.8-4.1 Ga crust exposed on Mars. I document eight geological units and features that will be studied with the Perseverance rover and record the presence of pyroxene-bearing igneous crustal materials, aqueous environments that led to widespread clay formation, and basin-forming impact processes that brecciated the crust. Associated younger Noachian-aged magnesium carbonate-bearing geological units will also be studied and sampled with the Perseverance rover. In Chapter 3, I review magnesium carbonate formation on Earth and Mars and find that textures of nodules, crusts, veins, sparry crystals, and thrombolites/stromatolites, their associated host lithologies and related secondary mineralogy can be used to distinguish between formation within weathering, lacustrine, hydrothermal, diagenetic, or microbially influenced aqueous environments, respectively, with rover analyses. Laboratory analysis of stable and radiogenic isotopes of returned samples will allow us to analyze the surface temperature and atmospheric isotopic composition of ancient Mars. In Chapter 4, I characterize the paragenesis of hydrated carbonates. In frigid environments, carbonates form in hydrated species known as monohydrocalcite (MHC) and ikaite that transform to calcite upon heating. Through petrographic analysis of Pleistocene ikaite pseudomorphs and a review of more ancient examples, I define a new carbonate microtexture, guttulatic calcite, which is diagnostic for carbonate dehydration and can be used to document frigid temperature conditions. In Chapter 5, I characterize the stable carbon, oxygen (δ¹⁸OCARB), and clumped (Δ₄₇) isotope systematics of hydrated carbonates. Through heating experiments of modern MHC, I measure and model change in δ¹⁸OCARB and Δ₄₇ signatures facilitated by equilibrium exchange as MHC is dehydrated. Using the determined correction for dehydration overprint allows reconstruction of precursor ikaite formation temperatures and isotopic signatures. The textural and isotopic proxies can now be used for reconstructing temperatures and isotopic signatures within Pleistocene and Neoproterozoic sedimentary deposits. In Chapter 6, I use the Perseverance rover’s SHERLOC instrument’s deep-UV Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy to discover evidence for two potentially habitable ancient aqueous environments that contain aromatic organic compounds. Spectral and textural observations of the olivinecarbonate assemblage within Jezero crater, Mars reveal carbonation of ultramafic protolith. A separate, later brine formed sulfate-perchlorate mixtures in void spaces. Fluorescence signatures consistent with multiple types of aromatic organic compounds occur throughout these samples, preserved in minerals related to both aqueous processes. These organic-mineral associations indicate that aqueous alteration processes led to the preservation and possibly formation of organic compounds on Mars. In Chapter 7, I model the global water budget and hydrogen isotopic composition (D/H) of Mars, using measured constraints from geomorphology, atmospheric escape rates, volcanic degassing processes, crust volatile content, and D/H. In my simulations, I find that chemical weathering sequestered a 0.1-1 km global equivalent layer of water, decreasing the volume of water participating in the hydrological cycle by 40 to 95% over the Noachian (~3.7-4 Ga) period, reaching present-day values by ~3 Ga. Between 30 and 99% of Martian water was sequestered through crustal hydration, demonstrating that irreversible chemical weathering can increase the aridity of terrestrial planets. In summary, this PhD thesis demonstrates that the formation of aqueous minerals is a major control on terrestrial planet climates and that aqueous minerals can be used to track the conditions of their formation environments.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Mars Minerals Water Habitability Planet Climate
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Ehlmann, Bethany L. (co-advisor)
  • Grotzinger, John P. (co-advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Rossman, George Robert (chair)
  • Stolper, Edward M.
  • Eiler, John M.
  • Ehlmann, Bethany L.
  • Grotzinger, John P.
Defense Date:24 February 2022
Non-Caltech Author Email:eschelle (AT)
Funding AgencyGrant Number
NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship80NSSC18K1255
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05252022-013922276
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription 2 paper 3 paper 4 paper 7 paper
Scheller, Eva Linghan0000-0002-9981-5802
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14607
Deposited By: Eva Linghan Scheller
Deposited On:02 Jun 2022 19:55
Last Modified:24 May 2023 18:29

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