Fossilization Potential of Iron-Bearing Minerals in Acidic Environments of Rio Tinto, Spain: Implications for Mars Exploration
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Fernandez-Remolar, David C.
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CitationFernandez-Remolar, David C., and Andrew H. Knoll. 2008. Fossilization potential of iron-bearing minerals in acidic environments of Rio Tinto, Spain: Implications for Mars exploration. Icarus 194(1): 72-85.
AbstractAcidic waters of the Rio Tinto, southwestern Spain, evaporate seasonally, precipitating a variety of iron sulfide and oxide minerals. Schwertmannite and nanophase goethite form thin laminae on biological and detrital grain surfaces, replicating, among other things, the morphologies of insect cuticle, plant tissues, fungi, algae, and bacteria. Intergrain cements also incorporate bacterial cells and filaments. Other sulfate minerals precipitated in Rio Tinto environments are transient and contribute little to short-term preservation. Because the Rio Tinto has been cutting its current valley for several million years, terrace deposits provide a window on longer term fossil preservation. Early and later diagenesis are recorded in terrace deposits formed about one thousand and two million years ago, respectively. The sedimentary structures and mineralogies of these deposits suggest that they formed under physical and chemical conditions comparable to those of modem Rio Tinto sediments. The terrace deposits show quantitative loss of sulfate minerals, increasing crystallinity of goethite and, in the older terrace, replacement of goethite by hematite. Fossils formed originally by schwertmannite and nanophase goethite replication persist through diagenesis, preserving a long term record of local biological diversity. Fossil preservation by iron oxides in the acidic environment of Rio Tinto suggests that if life was present when sedimentary rocks formed at Meridiani Planum, Mars, precipitated minerals could record their presence.
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