The geological history of Northeast Syrtis Major, Mars

Michael S. Bramble, John F. Mustard, Mark R. Salvatore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


As inferred from orbital spectroscopic data, Northeast Syrtis Major bears considerable mineral diversity that spans the Noachian-Hesperian boundary despite its small geographic area. In this study we use observations from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, supplemented with Context Camera imagery, to characterize and map the lateral extent of geomorphic units in Northeast Syrtis Major, and constrain the geomorphic context of the orbital-identified mineral signatures. Using recent observations, we confirm previous mineralogy identified with the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, and greatly extend the lateral extent of visible to near-infrared investigation utilizing the greater coverage. Analysis of Thermal Emission Imaging System observations reveals further physical properties and distribution of the geomorphic units. The stratigraphy, which spans the Noachian-Hesperian boundary, displays significant morphological heterogeneity at the decameter scale, but it is unifiable under five distinct geomorphic units. Our paired morphological and mineralogical analysis allows us to construct a detailed geological history of Northeast Syrtis Major. Several geological events that occurred in Northeast Syrtis Major—including the formation of the post-Isidis crust, the emplacement of an olivine-rich unit, the formation of sulfate minerals, and the emplacement of the Syrtis Major Volcanics—can be related to regional and global processes constraining the local chronology. Other mineralogical indicators, particularly the formation of Al-phyllosilicates, are difficult to place in the temporal sequence. They are observed in isolated patches on the post-Isidis crust, not as a distinct stratigraphic unit as observed elsewhere in Nili Fossae, suggesting their formation via isolated leaching or through alteration of initial compositional heterogeneities within the crust. Exposures of an olivine-rich unit are intermittently observed to form quasi-circular landforms, suggestive of emplacement in circular depressions, which may indicate a period of cratering between the formation of the Isidis basin and the deposition of the olivine-rich unit. We identify and discuss intriguing large linear features of the olivine-rich unit, reminiscent of dyke-fed volcanism, that have raised bounding ridges suggestive of contact metamorphism with the crust. We compile, review, and discuss many of the outstanding questions and running hypotheses relevant to our mapping area. A synthesis of our geomorphic mapping with recent literature reveals a well-defined geological history with extensive aqueous activity at Northeast Syrtis Major that is amassed in a stratigraphic sequence spanning a time likely greater than 250 million years of geological history. Our geomorphic and spectral analyses confirm that Northeast Syrtis Major exhibits considerable geomorphic and mineralogic diversity within a relatively small geographic area that is representative of the geologic processes occurring throughout the broader Nili Fossae region during the Noachian and Hesperian. Northeast Syrtis Major adds to this sequence by exposing the diverse environmental history of this region as observed through the presence of alteration minerals not present in this fidelity or proximity elsewhere in Nili Fossae.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-93
Number of pages28
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Geomorphology
  • Mars
  • Mineralogy
  • Spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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