The association of hydrogen with sulfur on Mars across latitudes, longitudes, and compositional extremes

Suniti Karunatillake, James J. Wray, Olivier Gasnault, Scott M. McLennan, A. Deanne Rogers, Steven W. Squyres, William V. Boynton, J. R. Skok, Nicole E. Button, Lujendra Ojha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Midlatitudinal hydrated sulfates on Mars may influence brine pH, atmospheric humidity, and collectively water activity. These factors affect the habitability of the planetary subsurface and the preservation of relict biomolecules. Regolith at grain sizes smaller than gravel, constituting the bulk of the Martian subsurface at regional scales, may be a primary repository of chemical alteration, mechanical alteration, and biosignatures. The Mars Odyssey Gamma Ray Spectrometer with hundreds of kilometers of lateral resolution and compositional sensitivity to decimeter depth provides unique insight into this component of the regolith, which we call soil. Advancing the globally compelling association between H2O and S established by our previous work, we characterize latitudinal variations in the association between H and S, as well as in the hydration state of soil. Represented by H2O:S molar ratios, the hydration state of candidate sulfates increases with latitude in the northern hemisphere. In contrast, hydration states generally decrease with latitude in the south. Furthermore, we observe that H2O concentration may affect the degree of sulfate hydration more than S concentration. Limited H2O availability in soil-atmosphere exchange and in subsurface recharge could explain such control exerted by H2O on salt hydration. Differences in soil thickness, ground ice table depths, atmospheric circulation, and insolation may contribute to hemispheric differences in the progression of hydration with latitude. Our observations support chemical association of H2O with S in the southern hemisphere as suggested by Karunatillake et al. (2014), including the possibility of Fe sulfates as a key mineral group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1321-1341
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Fe sulfate
  • Mars southern hemisphere
  • Mars subsurface hydration
  • Mars sulfate
  • hydrous bulk soil
  • regional hydration


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