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Ancient wet aeolian environments on Earth: Clues to presence of fossil/live microorganisms on Mars

Icarus

By:
, , , , , , , , and
DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2004.04.014

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Abstract

Ancient wet aeolian (wet-sabkha) environments on Earth, represented in the Entrada and Navajo sandstones of Utah, contain pipe structures considered to be the product of gas/water release under pressure. The sediments originally had considerable porosity allowing the ingress of living plant structures, microorganisms, clay minerals, and fine-grained primary minerals of silt and sand size from the surface downward in the sedimentary column. Host rock material is of a similar size and porosity and presumably the downward migration of fine-grained material would have been possible prior to lithogenesis and final cementation. Recent field emission scanning electron microscopy (FESEM) and EDS (energy-dispersive spectrometry) examination of sands from fluidized pipes in the Early Jurassic Navajo Sandstone reveal the presence of fossil forms resembling fungal filaments, some bearing hyphopodium-like structures similar to those produced by modern tropical leaf parasites. The tropical origin of the fungi is consistent with the paleogeography of the sandstone, which was deposited in a tropical arid environment. These fossil fungi are silicized, with minor amounts of CaCO3 and Fe, and in some cases a Si/Al ratio similar to smectite. They exist as pseudomorphs, totally depleted in nitrogen, adhering to the surfaces of fine-grained sands, principally quartz and orthoclase. Similar wet aeolian paleoenvironments are suspected for Mars, especially following catastrophic sediment-charged floods of enormous magnitudes that are believed to have contributed to rapid formation of large water bodies in the northern plains, ranging from lakes to oceans. These events are suspected to have contributed to a high frequency of constructional landforms (also known as pseudocraters) related to trapped volatiles and water-enriched sediment underneath a thick blanket of materials that were subsequently released to the martian surface, forming piping structures at the near surface and constructional landforms at the surface. This constructional process on Mars may help unravel the complex history of some of the piping structures observed on Earth; on Earth, evidence for the constructional landforms has been all but erased and the near-surface piping structures exposed through millions of years of differential erosion and topographic inversion now occur as high-standing promontories. If the features on both Earth and Mars formed by similar processes, especially involving water and other volatiles, and since the piping structures of Earth provided suitable environments for life to thrive in, the martian features in the northern plains should be considered as prime targets for physico/mineral/chemical/microbiological analyses once the astrobiological exploration of the red planet begins in earnest. ?? 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Ancient wet aeolian environments on Earth: Clues to presence of fossil/live microorganisms on Mars
Series title:
Icarus
DOI:
10.1016/j.icarus.2004.04.014
Volume
171
Issue:
1
Year Published:
2004
Language:
English
Larger Work Type:
Article
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
Larger Work Title:
Icarus
First page:
39
Last page:
53
Number of Pages:
15