Martin Hovland, Centre for Geobiology, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway, and Statoil ASA, Stavanger, Norway
Håkon Rueslåtten, NumericalRocks ASA, Trondheim, Norway
Hans Konrad Johnsen, Det Norske ASA, Trondheim, Norway
Tore Indreiten, Statoil ASA, Stavanger, Norway
One of the common characteristics of planets Earth and Mars is that both host water (H2O) and large accumulations of salt. Whereas Earth’s surface-environment can be regarded as ‘water-friendly’ and ‘salt hostile’, the reverse can be said for the surface of Mars. This is because liquid water is stable on Earth, and the atmosphere transports humidity around the globe, whereas on planet Mars, liquid water is unstable, rendering the atmosphere dry and, therefore, ‘salt-friendly’.
The riddle as to how the salt accumulated in various locations on those two planets, is one of long-lasting and great debate. The salt accumulations on Earth are traditionally termed ‘evaporites’, meaning that they formed as a consequence of the evaporation of large masses of seawater. How the accumulations on Mars formed is much harder to explain, as an ocean only existed briefly. Although water molecules and OH-groups may exist in abundance in bound form (crystal water, adsorbed water, etc.), the only place where free water is expected to be stable on Mars is within underground faults, fractures, and crevices. Here it likely occurs as brine or in the form of ice.