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Interpretation of Reflectance Spectra of Clay Mineral-Silica Mixtures: Implications for Martian Clay Mineralogy at Mawrth Vallis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2024

Nancy K. McKeown*
University of California Santa Cruz, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
Janice L. Bishop
SETI Institute, Mountain View, CA 94043, USA
Javier Cuadros
Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD, UK
Stephen Hillier
James Hutton Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen AB15 8QH, UK
Elena Amador
University of California Santa Cruz, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
Heather D. Makarewicz
University of Kansas, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA
Mario Parente
Stanford University, Electrical Engineering, Stanford, CA 94035, USA
Eli A. Silver
University of California Santa Cruz, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
* E-mail address of corresponding author:


The Al-clay-rich rock units at Mawrth Vallis, Mars, have been identified as mixtures of multiple components based on their spectral reflectance properties and the known spectral character of pure clay minerals. In particular, the spectral characteristics associated with the ~2.2 μm feature in Martian reflectance spectra indicate that mixtures of AlOH- and SiOH-bearing minerals are present. The present study investigated the spectral reflectance properties of the following binary mixtures to aid in the interpretation of remotely acquired reflectance spectra of rocks at Mawrth Vallis: kaolinite-opal-A, kaolinite-montmorillonite, montmorillonite-obsidian, montmorillonite-hydrated silica (opal), and glass-illite-smectite (where glass was hydrothermally altered to mixed-layer illite-smectite). The best spectral matches with Martian data from the present study’s laboratory experiments are mixtures of montmorillonite and obsidian having ~50% montmorillonite or mixtures of kaolinite and montmorillonite with ~30% kaolinite. For both of these mixtures the maximum inflection point on the long wavelength side of the 2.21 μm absorption feature is shifted to longer wavelengths, and in the case of the kaolinite-montmorillonite mixtures the 2.17 μm absorption found in kaolinite is of similar relative magnitude to that feature as observed in CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars) data. The reflectance spectra of clay mixed with opal and of hydrothermally altered glass-illite-smectite did not represent the Martian spectra observed in this region as well. A spectral comparison of linear vs. intimate mixtures of kaolinite and montmorillonite indicated that for these sieved samples, the intimate mixtures are very similar to the linear mixtures with the exception of the altered glass-illite-smectite samples. However, the 2.17 μm kaolinite absorption is stronger in the intimate mixtures than in the equivalent linear mixture. Modified Gaussian Modeling of absorption features observed in reflectance spectra of the kaolinite-montmorillonite mixtures indicated a strong correlation between percent kaolinite in the mixture and the ratio of the area of the 2.16 μm band found in kaolinite to the area of the 2.20 μm band found in montmorillonite.

Copyright © Clay Minerals Society 2011

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