Biosignature preservation potential in playa evaporites: Impacts of diagenesis and implications for mars exploration

Svetlana Shkolyar, Jack Farmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Assessing biosignature preservation potential (BPP) in ancient habitable environments on Mars is a top NASA priority. We address this goal through the study of Miocene-Pliocene evaporites of the Verde Formation (central Arizona). We assessed the effects of diagenesis on BPP, integrating outcrop-scale observations with six lab analyses: Thin-section petrography, X-ray diffraction, Raman spectroscopy, total organic carbon (TOC), electron probe microanalysis (EPMA), and visible to near-infrared (VNIR) reflectance spectroscopy. We recognized five facies and their diagenetic pathways. Two facies included mudstones which contain clusters of displacive growth gypsum (DGG). Early DGG was altered during diagenesis by dissolution forming crystal cavities and later underwent recrystallization, cation substitution, and sulfate dehydration. Another facies was identified by lenticular beds dominated by halite and late diagenetic thenardite (Na2SO4). These pods are overlain by a sequence of interbedded gray and red mudstones which record cyclic oxidation and Fe-oxide cementation. During the Pleistocene, a lacustrine environment developed, accompanied by magnesite cementation of playa mudstones. TOC analyses were used as a proxy for inferring the BPP in each facies. The highest BPP was associated with both red and gray mudstone facies. This study provides a taphonomic framework for playa environments on Earth that record the impacts of diagenesis on BPP, with potential applications to Mars sample return (MSR) missions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1460-1478
Number of pages19
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • Biosignature preservation potential (BPP)
  • Diagenesis
  • Evaporites
  • Kerogen
  • Mars sample return (MSR)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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