Clay minerals on Mars have commonly been interpreted as the remnants of pervasive water-rock interaction during the Noachian period (>3.7 Ga). This history has been partly inferred by observations of clays in central peaks of impact craters, which often are presumed uplifted from depth. However, combined mineralogical and morphological analyses of individual craters have shown that some central peak clays may represent post-impact, possibly authigenic processes.

Here we present a global survey of 633 central peaks to assess their hydrous minerals and the prevalence of uplifted, detrital, and authigenic clays. Central peak regions are examined using high-resolution CRISM and HiRISE data to identify hydrous minerals and place their detections in a stratigraphic and geologic context. We find that many occurrences of Fe/Mg clays and hydrated silica are associated with potential impact melt deposits. Over 35% of central peak clays are not associated with uplifted rocks, thus caution must be used when inferring deeper crustal compositions from surface mineralogy of central peaks.

Uplifted clay-bearing rocks suggest the martian crust hosts clays to depths of at least 7 km. We also observe evidence for increasing chloritization with depth, implying the presence of fluids in the upper portions of the crust. Our observations are consistent with widespread Noachian/Early Hesperian clay formation, but a number of central peak clays are also suggestive of clay formation during the Amazonian.

These results broadly support current paradigms of Mars’ aqueous history while adding insight to global crustal and diagenetic processes associated with clay mineral formation and stability.

The research, by Brown University geologists Ralph Milliken and Vivian Sun, is in press in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.