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Modeling ferrous–ferric iron chemistry with application to martian surface geochemistry

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.gca.2007.10.012
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Science
  • Physics


Abstract The Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Exploration Rover, and Mars Express missions have stimulated considerable thinking about the surficial geochemical evolution of Mars. Among the major recent mission findings are the presence of jarosite (a ferric sulfate salt), which requires formation from an acid-sulfate brine, and the occurrence of hematite and goethite on Mars. Recent ferric iron models have largely focused on 25 °C, which is a major limitation for models exploring the geochemical history of cold bodies such as Mars. Until recently, our work on low-temperature iron-bearing brines involved ferrous but not ferric iron, also obviously a limitation. The objectives of this work were to (1) add ferric iron chemistry to an existing ferrous iron model (FREZCHEM), (2) extend this ferrous/ferric iron geochemical model to lower temperatures (<0 °C), and (3) use the reformulated model to explore ferrous/ferric iron chemistries on Mars. The FREZCHEM model is an equilibrium chemical thermodynamic model parameterized for concentrated electrolyte solutions using the Pitzer approach for the temperature range from <−70 to 25 °C and the pressure range from 1 to 1000 bars. Ferric chloride and sulfate mineral parameterizations were based, in part, on experimental data. Ferric oxide/hydroxide mineral parameterizations were based exclusively on Gibbs free energy and enthalpy data. New iron parameterizations added 23 new ferrous/ferric minerals to the model for this Na–K–Mg–Ca–Fe(II)–Fe(III)–H–Cl–SO 4–NO 3–OH–HCO 3–CO 3–CO 2–O 2–CH 4–H 2O system. The model was used to develop paragenetic sequences for Rio Tinto waters on Earth and a hypothetical Martian brine derived from acid weathering of basaltic minerals. In general, model simulations were in agreement with field evidence on Earth and Mars in predicting precipitation of stable iron minerals such as jarosites, goethite, and hematite. In addition, paragenetic simulations for Mars suggest that other iron minerals such as lepidocrocite, schwertmannite, ferricopiapite, copiapite, and bilinite may also be present on the surface of Mars. Evaporation or freezing of the Martian brine led to similar mineral precipitates. However, in freezing, compared to evaporation, the following key differences were found: (1) magnesium sulfates had higher hydration states; (2) there was greater total aqueous sulfate (SO 4T = SO 4 + HSO 4) removal; and (3) there was a significantly higher aqueous Cl/SO 4T ratio in the residual Na–Mg–Cl brine. Given the similarities of model results to observations, alternating dry/wet and freeze/thaw cycles and brine migration could have played major roles in vug formation, Cl stratification, and hematite concretion formation on Mars.

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