Gusev crater was selected as the landing site for Spirit on the basis of morphological evidence of long-lasting water activity, including possibly fluvial and lacustrine episodes. From the Columbia Memorial Station to the Columbia Hills, Spirit's traverse provides a journey back in time, from relatively recent volcanic plains showing little evidence for aqueous processes up to the older hills, where rock and soil composition are drastically different. For the first 156 sols, the only evidence of water action was weathering rinds, vein fillings, and soil crust cementation by salts. The trenches of Sols 112-145 marked the first significant findings of increased concentrations of sulfur and magnesium varying in parallel, suggesting that they be paired as magnesium-sulfate. Spirit's arrival at West Spur coincided with a shift in rock and soil composition with observations hinting at substantial amounts of water in Gusev's past. We used the Microscopic Imager data up to Sol 431 to analyze rock and soil properties and infer plausible types and magnitude of aqueous processes through time. We show the role played early by topography and structure. The morphology, texture, and deep alteration shown by the rocks in West Spur and the Columbia Hills Formation (CHF) suggest conditions that are not met in present-day Mars and required a wetter environment, which could have included transport of sulfur, chlorine, and bromine in water, vapor in volcanic gases, hydrothermal circulation, or saturation in a briny fluid containing the same elements. Changing conditions that might have affected flow circulation are suggested by different textural and morphological characteristics between the rocks in the CHF and those of the plains, with higher porosity proxy, higher void ratio, and higher water storage potential in the CHF. Soils were used to assess aqueous processes and water pathways in the top layers of modern soils. We conclude that infiltration might have become more difficult with time. Copyright 2006 by the American Geophysical Union.
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Aqueous processes at Gusev crater inferred from physical properties of rocks and soils along the Spirit traverse