South Dakota Mines Researchers Use Lab Experiments to Show Volcanic Activity on Mars

Alexander Rogaski, who completed his master’s degree at South Dakota Mines in geology, is shown here working in the lab that created a model of a fumarole under the surface of Mars.

Gokce K Ustunisik, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at South Dakota Mines, and Alexander Rogaski, who completed his master’s degree at Mines under Ustunisik, have produced minerals found on Mars by experimentally mimicking the conditions in Martian fumaroles, or vents found in areas of volcanic activity.

Their work, published in the journal of Meteoritics and Planetary Science, indicates ongoing volcanism on the red planet. Scientists only recently discovered that Mars may have areas of active volcanos. “Both rover and orbital Martian missions have provided a wealth of information on geologic processes of the Martian surface. That said, we still do not understand the origin of the high values of germanium and zinc metals in the Gale and Gusev Craters on Mars. These values contradict what is found in Martian meteorites,” says Ustunisik.

Using data gathered by satellites, Ustunisik and Rogaski designed laboratory experiments to recreate what happens inside a Martian fumarole.

“Since we do not have actual Martian samples, we had to recreate the composition of the Martian magmas in the mantle by making magmas inside a piston cylinder at the same pressures and temperatures found under Mars. These experiments show as magmas move toward the surface of the planet they degas, like opening a soda pop bottle with forming of bubbles. This gas cools and interacts with minerals on the surface of the planet to form rare minerals found on satellite scans of Mars,” says Ustunisik.

“This alteration of minerals by hot gases is quite common on Earth,” says Ustunisik. “This research shows this process is also happening on Mars. This is a unique experimental design that can be used to mimic these Martian processes in the laboratory. We can do this on other planets besides Mars.”

Ustunisik and Rogaski’s work was funded by NASA-Emerging Worlds grant with her collaborator Denton S. Ebel at the American Museum of Natural History department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, where Dr. Ustunisik is a Research Associate. A second grant from the South Dakota Space Consortium grant for Rogaski’s work also helped make this research possible.

Alexander Rogaski is currently working as a senior staff geologist at the company Geosyntec Consultants in California. Dr. Ustunisik is planning on continuing this research and is seeking funding for graduate students interested in planetary geology. 

Last edited 8/29/2023 2:46:40 PM

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