Encyclopedia of Paleoclimatology and Ancient Environments

2009 Edition
| Editors: Vivien Gornitz

Atmospheric Evolution, Mars

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-4411-3_17

Introduction

Today, Mars is a cold, dry global desert. However, there is considerable evidence that Mars’ climate and its inventory of volatiles (substances that tend to form gases or vapor) have changed greatly during the planet’s history. The evidence comes from a variety of sources, including the geomorphology and mineralogy of the surface, the atmospheric composition, and the nature of subsurface materials inferred from the analysis of Martian meteorites reviewed by Kieffer et al. (1992) and Carr (2006). In general, geochemical observations suggest that a once much greater volatile inventory was mostly lost very early in Martian history. We discuss below how isotopic data, in particular, suggests that as much as 99% of the original nitrogen and carbon atmospheric inventory of Mars was lost before about 3.8 Ga, ∼0.9% has been lost since, and perhaps only ∼0.1% remains. The geomorphology suggests a period of early Martian history when liquid water was present on the surface,...

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