Noble gas components in Martian meteorites

  • Julia Cartwright

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis focuses on the analysis of heavy noble gases (argon, krypton and xenon) and halogens (chlorine, bromine and iodine) in Martian meteorites. In the absence of a sample-return mission, Martian meteorite analysis is essential for establishing evidence for an active fluid system, evaluating the potential for life and understanding the formation and evolution of Mars. Noble gas analysis has multiple applications for Martian meteorite study, as described in this thesis.The noble gas isotopic signatures of Earth's atmosphere, Martian atmosphere and Martian interior are sufficiently different that they can be distinguished through noble gas analysis. Analysis of bulk and mineral separates of shergottites showed that Martian atmospheric Xe was distributed evenly amongst samples, whilst terrestrially weathered samples contained elevated concentrations of terrestrial atmospheric Xe. Both atmospheric components were introduced by weathering. Shock redistribution is responsible for the distribution of Martian atmosphere into more retentive sites. Crustal contamination may be responsible for the presence or absence of detectable 129Xe from the Martian atmosphere.Halogen abundances can be determined as an extension of the Ar-Ar dating technique. As the halogen system on Earth acts as a tracer for important fluid related processes, Martian halogen abundances in meteorites may provide a tracer for the Martian fluid system. Analysis of bulk and mineral separates of nakhlites showed that halogens are distributed amongst minor phases and clear variation of Br/Cl and I/Cl ratios was observed amongst samples. Elevated I concentrations in low temperature releases of finds NWA 998 and MIL 03346 are consistent with terrestrial contamination. Analysis of Nakhla, (a meteorite fall), showed a trend of elevated Br/Cl and I/Cl ratios in crush and low temperature releases, consistent with Br/Cl ratios observed in Martian rocks, soils and weathering products. In contrast, high temperature releases had lower I/Cl and Br/Cl ratios, which are broadly comparable to the terrestrial mantle. This trend may represent mixing of hydrothermal fluids (low Br/Cl and I/Cl) and surface brines (high Br/Cl and I/Cl). An impact-induced hydrothermal system may provide a mechanism for mixing of both fluid types. The crystallisation ages of nakhlite meteorites were determined using the Ar-Ar dating technique. The apparent ages measured were similar to previous Ar-Ar analysis, and older than reported for other chronometers. Previously unrecognised components were observed, including evidence for a trapped hydrous fluid. This Cl-rich component showed strong correlation with 40Ar and had 40Ar/36Ar and 40Ar/129XeXS ratios consistent with Martian atmosphere. As this component was released during crush and low temperature analysis, fluid inclusions formed by percolation of brines from the Martian surface are likely hosts. Both finds showed clear evidence of a trapped component with 40Ar/36Ar ratios similar to either terrestrial atmosphere or the Martian interior. A further component observed in olivine phases had low 40Ar/36Ar ratios, and likely formed by the release of 36Ar formed by cosmic-ray spallation reactions on iron.
Date of Award31 Dec 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJames Gilmour (Supervisor)


  • Argon
  • Melt inclusions
  • Weathering
  • Iodine
  • Bromine
  • Chlorine
  • Xenon
  • Krypton
  • MS1
  • Fluids
  • Halogens
  • Ar-Ar dating technique
  • Noble gases
  • Martian meteorite

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