Noble Gas Evolution of the Martian Atmosphere in the last 4 Gyr Recorded by Regolith Breccia NWA 8114

S.a. Crowther, P.l. Clay, S. Edwards, H. Busemann, K.h. Joy, A.a. Early, R. Burgess, A.r. Butcher, M. Humayun, J.d. Gilmour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The martian meteorite Northwest Africa (NWA) 8114 is a regolith breccia grouped with the NWA 7034 (‘Black Beauty’) stone and others. The meteorite, with its complex rock and mineral load, records over 4.4 billion years of martian geological and atmospheric history. In this work we present new analyses of noble gases in NWA 8114, and consider the constraints they impose on the evolution of the martian atmosphere over the past 4 billion years. We also report a petrographic overview, halogen abundances, and an argon isotope age, which provide context for interpreting the noble gas data.

The krypton and xenon elemental signature of NWA 8114 is elementally fractionated with respect to the present-day martian atmosphere as measured in shergottite glasses; there is no requirement for a contribution from the ancient martian atmosphere in our data. The xenon isotopic composition incorporates (i) a component enriched in 129Xe (maximum 129Xe/132Xe = 2.450 ± 0.045 compared with a solar ratio of ∼1), which is similar to the present day martian atmosphere, (ii) a cosmic-ray spallation component dominated by production from barium, and (iii) a fission component. We estimate a cosmic ray exposure (CRE) age of 5.7 ± 1.3 Myr from cosmogenic 21Ne and 38Ar.

Understanding how the martian atmosphere has changed through the planet’s history is a key part of understanding the planet’s geological history and evolution. We develop a model for the evolution of the martian atmosphere constrained by the amount of spallation-derived xenon in the atmosphere today and the evolution of the 129Xe/132Xe ratio over time. A baseline model in which the early atmosphere collapsed 3.7 Gyr ago (and assuming no further loss) requires a constant degassing of the crustal budget of spallation xenon of 0.034 % Myr-1 to accumulate sufficient spallation-derived xenon in the atmosphere. Combining constraints imposed by the 129Xe/132Xe ratio with the spallation budget requires loss of xenon from the martian atmosphere over the last 3.7 Gyr, with the present day budget being as little as 20 % of that at the start of this period.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-393
Number of pages22
JournalGeochimica Et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022


  • Black Beauty
  • Mars
  • Martian atmosphere
  • Martian surface
  • NWA 8114


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