Impact-generated hydrothermal systems on Earth and Mars

Osinski, G. R. et al. (2013) Impact-generated hydrothermal systems on Earth and Mars. Icarus, 224(2), pp. 347-363. (doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2012.08.030)

142388.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.



It has long been suggested that hydrothermal systems might have provided habitats for the origin and evolution of early life on Earth, and possibly other planets such as Mars. In this contribution we show that most impact events that result in the formation of complex impact craters (i.e., >2–4 and >5–10 km diameter on Earth and Mars, respectively) are potentially capable of generating a hydrothermal system. Consideration of the impact cratering record on Earth suggests that the presence of an impact crater lake is critical for determining the longevity and size of the hydrothermal system. We show that there are six main locations within and around impact craters on Earth where impact-generated hydrothermal deposits can form: 1) crater-fill impact melt rocks and melt-bearing breccias; 2) interior of central uplifts; 3) outer margin of central uplifts; 4) impact ejecta deposits; 5) crater rim region; and 6) post-impact crater lake sediments. We suggest that these six locations are applicable to Mars as well. Evidence for impact-generated hydrothermal alteration ranges from discrete vugs and veins to pervasive alteration depending on the setting and nature of the system. A variety of hydrothermal minerals have been documented in terrestrial impact structures and these can be grouped into three broad categories: (1) hydrothermally-altered target-rock assemblages; (2) primary hydrothermal minerals precipitated from solutions; and (3) secondary assemblages formed by the alteration of primary hydrothermal minerals. Target lithology and the origin of the hydrothermal fluids strongly influences the hydrothermal mineral assemblages formed in these post-impact hydrothermal systems. There is a growing body of evidence for impact-generated hydrothermal activity on Mars; although further detailed studies using high-resolution imagery and multispectral information are required. Such studies have only been done in detail for a handful of Martian craters. The best example so far is from Toro Crater (Marzo et al., 2010). We also present new evidence for impact-generated hydrothermal deposits within an unnamed ~32-km diameter crater ~350 km away from Toro and within the larger Holden Crater. Synthesizing observations of impact craters on Earth and Mars, we suggest that if there was life on Mars early in its history, then hydrothermal deposits associated with impact craters may provide the best, and most numerous, opportunities for finding preserved evidence for life on Mars. Moreover, hydrothermally altered and precipitated rocks can provide nutrients and habitats for life long after hydrothermal activity has ceased.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Pickersgill, Dr Annemarie
Authors: Osinski, G. R., Tornabene, L. L., Banerjee, N. R., Cockell, C. S., Flemming, R., Izawa, M. R.M., McCutcheon, J., Parnell, J., Preston, L. J., Pickersgill, A. E., Pontefract, A., Sapers, H. M., and Southam, G.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Journal Name:Icarus
ISSN (Online):1090-2643
Published Online:01 October 2012
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc.
First Published:First published in Icarus 224(2): 347-363
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

University Staff: Request a correction | Enlighten Editors: Update this record