The physicochemical nature of water on early Mars
Concepts of large bodies of glacial ice and liquid standing water, a robust hydrological cycle, and a rich Martian history of climate change are part of the current consensus model for early Mars. However, questions still poorly constrained include: a precise understanding of the inventory of water during the first billion years of Mars history and its early evolution on both global and local scales; whether liquid or solid H2O dominated, for what duration of time and where the water resided; what were the host-rock weathering rates and patterns and the physicochemical parameters defining such interactions; what specific landforms and mineralogies were generated during those periods; and what implications all these processes had on the possible inception of life on Mars. These fundamental questions represent large uncertainties and knowledge gaps. Therefore, a quantitative understanding of the basic characteristics of water on early Mars is very much needed and is the focus of this proposal.
This application outlines a plan for my research in the next five years, and explains how I propose to fully characterize the aqueous environments of early Mars through a quantitative and truly interdisciplinary investigation. Spacecraft mission-derived datasets will be consistently used to test hypotheses through paleogeomorphological reconstructions, geochemical modeling, mineralogical studies, and astrobiological investigations. The derived results will produce hard constraints on the physical evolution, chemical alteration and habitability of surface and near-surface aqueous environments on early Mars. The planned investigations will benefit from the combination of working with first-hand data from ongoing Mars missions and with the state-of-the-art laboratory tools at the host institution. The final expected result will be a complete understanding of the physicochemical nature of water on early Mars, also opening new paths for the astrobiological exploration of the planet.