Spectroscopy and detectability of liquid brines on mars

M. Massé, P. Beck, B. Schmitt, A. Pommerol, A. McEwen, V. Chevrier, O. Brissaud, A. Séjourné

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Recent geomorphological observations as well as chemical and thermodynamic studies demonstrate that liquid water should be stable today on the Martian surface at some times of the day. In Martian conditions, brines would be particularly more stable than pure water because salts can depress the freezing point and lower the evaporation rate of water. Despite this evidence, no clear spectral signature of liquid has been observed so far by the hyperspectral imaging spectrometers OMEGA and CRISM. However, past spectral analysis lacks a good characterization of brines' spectral signatures. This study thus aims to determine how liquid brines can be detected on Mars by spectroscopy. In this way, laboratory experiments were performed for reproducing hydration and dehydration cycles of various brines while measuring their spectral signatures. The resulting spectra first reveal a very similar spectral evolution for the various brine types and pure water, with the main difference observed at the end of the dehydration with the crystallization of various hydrated minerals from brines. The main characteristic of this spectral behavior is an important decoupling between the evolution of albedo and hydration bands depths. During most of the wetting/drying processes, spectra usually display a low albedo associated with shallow water absorption band depths. Strong water absorption band depth and high albedo are respectively only observed when the surface is very wet and when the surface is very dry. These experiments can thus explain why the currently active Martian features attributed to the action of a liquid are only associated with low albedo and very weak spectral signatures. Hydration experiments also reveal that deliquescence occurs easily even at low temperature and moderate soil water vapor pressure and could thus cause seasonal darkening on Mars. These experiments demonstrate that the absence of water absorptions in CRISM in the middle afternoon does not rule out water activity and suggest future spectral investigations to identify water on the Martian surface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-149
Number of pages14
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Brines
  • Composition
  • Laboratory experiments
  • Mars
  • Spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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