Physical and Chemical Evolution of Lunar Mare Regolith

P. O'Brien, S. Byrne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The lunar landscape evolves both physically and chemically over time due to impact cratering and energetic processes collectively known as space weathering. Despite returned soil samples and global remote sensing reflectance measurements, the rate of space weathering in the lunar regolith is not well understood. To address this, we developed a novel three-dimensional landscape evolution model to simulate the physical processes that control the burial, excavation, and transport of regolith on airless bodies. Applying this model to the lunar mare, we find that over billions of years of surface evolution, material typically spends only a few million years on the surface where it is exposed to the effects of space weathering. The small surface residence times are a result of vigorous mixing by small-scale impacts, predominantly driven by secondary crater formation. We deduce the rate of space weathering by comparing our modeled distribution of surface residence times on the lunar mare to measurements of space weathering maturity from Apollo soil samples and orbital surface reflectance datasets. These chemical constraints indicate that soil on the lunar mare reaches maturity in 7 Myr of cumulative surface exposure though due to uncertainties in the rate of small secondary crater production, this timescale could be 2–3 times higher. Weathering progresses more rapidly upon initial exposure to space but the surface residence time required to achieve maturity is realized over billions of years as regolith is repeatedly buried and exposed by small impacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020JE006634
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Moon
  • impact cratering
  • regolith
  • space weathering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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