Toward the geological significance of hydrated silica detected by near infrared spectroscopy on Mars based on terrestrial reference samples

Research areas:
Spectroscopy - Mars, surface, Mineralogy, Geological processes
Hydrated silica detected on the martian surface, from both orbital and in-situ data, is an indicator of past aqueous conditions. On Earth, several near infrared (NIR) spectral criteria can be used to discriminate silica phases (e.g. opal-A, opal-CT and chalcedony) and their formation processes. We have applied these spectral criteria to Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) data in order to investigate the geological origin of hydrated silica on Mars. We used two spectral criteria: (i) the crystallinity spectral criteria on the 1.4- and 1.9 μm absorption bands to distinguish between amorphous (opal-A and hydrated glasses) and more crystalline (opal-CT and chalcedony) varieties of silica, and (ii) the Concavity-Ratio-Criterion (CRC) to differentiate opals of hydrothermal origin from weathering origin. We first adapted the CRC measurements on terrestrial samples to make them comparable to CRISM measurements on Mars: we resampled our terrestrial spectra down to the CRISM resolution, and tested the martian pressure effect on spectral signatures. Then, we selected several areas over nine sites where hydrated silica has been detected on Mars, on the basis of good quality detections. Our results show that two main types of spectra can be distinguished, and these are consistent with two distinct geomorphological contexts proposed by Sun and Milliken (2018): amorphous and/or dehydrated silica-bearing bedrock deposits, and more crystalline and/or hydrated silica-bearing aeolian deposits. The concavity criterion also indicates silica origins that are in agreement with most of the hypothesized geological origins proposed in the literature. Although these results need further strengthening, they are promising for the use of NIR signatures as means of investigating the processes of hydrated silica on Mars.