Silica coatings in the Ka’u Desert, Hawaii, a Mars analog terrain: a micro-morphological, spectral, chemical and isotopic study

Steven M. Chemtob, George R. Rossman, John M. Eiler

Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences,
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125-2500, U.S.A.

Bradley L. Jolliff, Raymond E. Arvidson

Washington University, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
St. Louis, MO, 63130, U.S.A.


High-silica materials have been observed on Mars, both from orbit by the CRISM spectrometer and in situ by the Spirit rover at Gusev Crater. These observations potentially imply a wet, geologically active Martian surface. To understand silica formation on Mars, it is useful to study analogous terrestrial silica deposits. We studied silica coatings that occur on the 1974 Kilauea flow in the Ka’u Desert, Hawaii. These coatings are typically composed of two layers: a ~10 μm layer of amorphous silica, capped by a ~1 μm layer of Fe-Ti oxide. The oxide coating is composed of ~100 nm spherules, suggesting formation by chemical deposition. Raman spectroscopy indicates altered silica glass as the dominant phase in the silica coating, and anatase and rutile as dominant phases in the Fe-Ti coating; jarosite also occurs within the coatings. Oxygen isotopic contents of the coatings were determined by secondary ion mass spectrometry (Cameca 7f and NanoSIMS). The measured values, δ18OFe-Ti = 14.6±2.1‰, and δ18Osilica = 12.1±2.2‰ (relative to SMOW), are enriched in 18O relative to the basalt substrate. The observations presented are consistent with a residual formation mechanism for the silica coating. Acid-sulfate solutions leached away divalent and trivalent cations, leaving a silica-enriched layer behind. Micrometer-scale dissolution and reprecipitation may have also occurred within the coatings. Chemical similarities between the Hawaiian samples and the high-silica deposits at Gusev suggest that the Martian deposits are the product of extended periods of similar acid-sulfate leaching..


Coated basalt in the field (left) and a SEM image of a cross section (right).