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Geochemistry of a continental site of serpentinization, the Tablelands Ophiolite, Gros Morne National Park: A Mars analogue

Authors: 
Natalie Szponara, William J. Brazeltonb, Matthew O. Schrenkb, Dina M. Bowerc, Andrew Steelec, Penny L. Morrilla,

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2012.07.004

Abstract: 

The presence of aqueously altered, olivine-rich rocks along with carbonate on Mars suggest that serpentinization may have occurred in the past and may be occurring presently in the subsurface, and possibly contributing methane (CH4) to the martian atmosphere. Serpentinization, the hydration of olivine in ultramafic rocks, yields ultra-basic fluids (pH ⩾ 10) with unique chemistry (i.e. Ca2+–OH waters) and hydrogen gas, which can support abiogenic production of hydrocarbons (i.e. Fischer–Tropsch Type synthesis) and subsurface chemosynthetic metabolisms. Mars analogue sites of present-day serpentinization can be used to determine what geochemical measurements are required for determining the source methane at sites of serpentinization on Earth and possibly on Mars. The Tablelands Ophiolite is a continental site of present-day serpentinization and a Mars analogue due to the presence of altered olivine-rich ultramafic rocks with both carbonate and serpentine signatures. This study describes the geochemical indicators of present-day serpentinization as evidenced by meteoric ultra-basic reducing groundwater discharging from ultramafic rocks, and travertine and calcium carbonate sediment, which form at the discharge points of the springs. Dissolved hydrogen concentrations (0.06–1.20 mg/L) and methane (0.04–0.30 mg/L) with δ13CCH4 values (-28.5‰ to -15.6‰) were measured in the spring fluids. Molecular and isotopic analyses of CH4, ethane, propane, butane, pentane and hexane suggest a non-microbial source of methane, and attribute the origin of methane and higher hydrocarbon gases to either thermogenic or abiogenic pathways.