New data from an Antarctica ice core strengthens the hypothesis that the flow of glaciers, not liquid water, helped shape the meandering canyons on Mars.
The data was the discovery of the mineral jarosite deep within the south pole ice-cap. Jarosite needs water to form. Previously it was generally believed it formed in conjunction with liquid flowing water. On Mars, which appears to have lots of jarosite, scientists have struggled for decades to figure out how enough liquid water could have existed on the surface of Mars to produce it.
The discovery of jarosite deep inside the Antarctic ice cap now suggests that it can form buried in ice, not liquid water. According to the scientists,
the jarosite was born within massive ice deposits that might have blanketed [Mars] billions of years ago. As ice sheets grew over time, dust would have accumulated within the ice—and may have been transformed into jarosite within slushy pockets between ice crystals.
From the paper’s conclusions:
The occurrence of jarosite in TALDICE [in Antarctica] supports the ice-weathering model for the formation of Martian jarosite within large ice-dust deposits. The environment inside the Talos Dome ice [in Antarctica] is isolated from the Earth atmosphere and its conditions, including pressure, temperature, pH and chemistry, provides a suitable analogue for similar Martian settings. Dust deposited at Talos Dome is also similar to Martian atmospheric dust, being both mostly basaltic. Within thick ice deposits it is likely that the environment would be similar at Talos Dome and under Mars-like conditions since both settings would contain at cryogenic temperatures basaltic dust and volcanogenic and biogenic (for Antarctic only) sulfur-rich aerosols. … Considering this context, it is reasonable that the formation of jarosite on Mars involves the interaction between brines and mineral dust in deep ice, as observed in TALDICE. This mechanism for Martian jarosite precipitation is paradigm changing and strongly challenges assumptions that the mineral formed in playa settings.
Playa settings are places where there is standing liquid water, slowing drying away.
This result is another piece of evidence that ice and glaciers were the cause of the Martian terrain that to Earth eyes for decades was thought to have formed by flowing water. It also continues what appears to be a major shift on-going in the planetary science community, from the idea of liquid water on Mars to that of a planet dominated by glacial and ice processes.
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