Purdue University Graduate School
Ackiss_MineralogyMorphologyEarthMars_Thesis_2018_v4.pdf (8.99 MB)

Investigating the Mineralogy and Morphology of Subglacial Volcanoes on Earth and Mars

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posted on 2019-06-10, 17:22 authored by Sheridan E. AckissSheridan E. Ackiss
In this dissertation, we have examined mineral assemblages and geomorphologic features in the Sisyphi Planum region of Mars, as well as examined the mineral assemblage of palagonite in Iceland. Chapter 2 is focused on the mineral assemblages detected on possible glaciovolcanic edifices in the Sisyphi Planum region of Mars. Minerals were identified utilizing visible/near-infrared orbital spectra from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM). Analysis of eleven CRISM images located on the volcanic edifices revealed three distinct spectral classes in the region which are interpreted to be: gypsum-dominated, smectite-zeolite- iron oxide-dominated (possibly palagonite), and polyhydrated sulfate-dominated material. The possible palagonite detections on the volcanic edifices, the geomorphology of the region, and the analogous terrestrial mineralogy of subglacial eruptions strongly suggests the formation of these minerals during subglacial eruptions or associated hydrothermal systems. This implies that thick water ice sheets were present in this region in the late Noachian or early Hesperian, and that the subglacial hydrothermal systems could have supported habitable environments with excellent biosignature preservation potential. Chapter 3 is focused on evaluating the variability of the composition and crystallinity of palagonite on Earth in order to inform efforts to identify it on Mars. We hypothesized that variability in palagonite composition and crystallinity could occur due to differences in environmental conditions during formation. Palagonite samples were collected in Iceland at subglacial volcanic sites around Reykjavík in the Western Volcanic Zone, on the southern coast in the Eastern Volcanic Zone, and from the Herðubreið tuya and Askja volcano in the Northern Volcanic Zone. Visible/near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy, thermal-infrared emission spectroscopy, and quantitative XRD were used to assess the bulk mineralogy, crystallinity, and clay composition of all samples. Results show the sampled palagonites contain partially devitrified glass, unaltered glass, and secondary minerals including clay minerals, poorly crystalline ferric oxides, and zeolites. However, one sample (SCoast01) shows a vastly different mineral assemblage in all sample techniques, including well-crystalline Fe/Mg-clays as opposed to the poorly-crystalline Al-clays observed in our other samples. Based on previous studies of subaqueous palagonites and the location this sample was collected from, we hypothesize that the SCoast01 sample was formed in a submarine environment rather than subglacial. This suggests that it may be possible to differentiate submarine vs. subglacial palagonite on Earth based on composition and from remote sensing observations on Mars. Chapter 4 is a geomorphologic study of the Sisyphi Planum region of Mars where we identified and classified the tops of the Sisyphi Montes as well as geomorphologically mapped the Sisyphi Planum region. Here, we address an overarching question: What is the relationship between the Sisyphi Montes and the ice in this region? To do this, we identified 106 edifices in the region and classified them into five categories: 1) flat topped, 2) rounded tops, 3) sharp peaks, 4) cratered peaks, and 5) height less than 300 meters – a “catch-all” category for all features below the specified height, which exhibit less distinctive morphologies in MOLA topography. While many of the edifices could be sub-glacial in origin, we find that the only morphologic class that exhibits uniquely subglacial morphologies are the flat-topped edifices. These edifices are similar to terrestrial tuyas, which form when a subglacial volcano breaches an ice sheet and erupts a plateau of sub-aerial lavas. Based on the geomorphologic map and topographic data, we have shown that flat-topped edifices are all located outside of regions that we map as the Mantled Unit, which we infer to be related to the Dorsa Argentina Formation. The combination of the flat topped edifices and their location outside of the mapped ice-related regions strongly suggests that the ice in the region was once more extensive than what is currently observed. While this has been proposed in the past, it has not been documented how far the ice sheet could have extended. Here we show that the ice must have extended to at least as far as the flat topped edifices in the region. The combination of these chapters using both mineralogy and morphology suggest that the Sisyphi Planum region of Mars was subglacial in origin.


Purdue Doctoral Fellowship

NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Briony Horgan

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Darryl Granger

Additional Committee Member 2

Michelle Thompson

Additional Committee Member 3

Joseph Michalski