Preservation potential of implanted solar wind volatiles in lunar paleoregolith deposits buried by lava flows

Sarah A. Fagents, M. Elise Rumpf, Ian A. Crawford, Katherine H. Joy

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The lunar surface is bathed in a variety of impacting particles originating from the solar wind, solar flares, and galactic cosmic rays. These particles can become embedded in the regolith and/or produce a range of other molecules as they pass through the target material. The Moon therefore contains a record of the variability of the solar and galactic particle fluxes through time. To obtain useful temporal snapshots of these processes, discrete regolith units must be shielded from continued bombardment that would rewrite the record over time. One mechanism for achieving this preservation is the burial of a regolith deposit by a later lava flow. The archival value of such deposits sandwiched between lava layers is enhanced by the fact that both the under- and over-lying lava can be dated by radiometric techniques, thereby precisely defining the age of the regolith layer and the geologic record contained therein. The implanted volatile species would be vulnerable to outgassing by the heat of the over-lying flow, at temperatures exceeding 300-700°C. However, the insulating properties of the finely particulate regolith would restrict significant heating to shallow depths. We have therefore modeled the heat transfer between lunar mare basalt lavas and the regolith in order to establish the range of depths below which implanted volatiles would be preserved. We find that the full suite of solar wind volatiles, consisting predominantly of H and He, would survive at depths of ∼13-290cm (for 1-10m thick lava flows, respectively). A substantial amount of CO, CO2, N2 and Xe would be preserved at depths as shallow as 3.7cm beneath meter-thick flows. Given typical regolith accumulation rates during mare volcanism, the optimal localities for collecting viable solar wind samples would involve stacks of thin mare lava flows emplaced a few tens to a few hundred Ma apart, in order for sufficient regolith to develop between burial events. Obtaining useful archives of Solar System processes would therefore require extraction of regolith deposits buried at quite shallow depths beneath radiometrically-dated mare lava flows. These results provide a basis for possible lunar exploration activities. © 2009 Elsevier Inc.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)595-604
    Number of pages9
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2010


    • Cosmic rays
    • Moon, Surface
    • Regoliths
    • Solar wind
    • Volcanism


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