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Icarus 256 (2015) 1321

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Physical abrasion of mac minerals and basalt grains: Application

to martian aeolian deposits
C. Cornwall a,b,, J.L. Bandeld a,c, T.N. Titus d, B.C. Schreiber a, D.R. Montgomery a

Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
School of Environmental Science, University of Ulster, Coleraine, UK
Space Science Institute, Boulder, CO 80301, USA
United States Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, USA

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 26 January 2015
Revised 7 April 2015
Accepted 13 April 2015
Available online 18 April 2015
Aeolian processes
Mars, surface

a b s t r a c t
Sediment maturity, or the mineralogical and physical characterization of sedimentary deposits, has been
used to identify sediment sources, transport medium and distance, weathering processes, and paleoenvironments on Earth. Mature terrestrial sands are dominated by quartz, which is abundant in source
lithologies on Earth and is physically and chemically stable under a wide range of conditions.
Immature sands, such as those rich in feldspars or mac minerals, are composed of grains that are easily
physically weathered and highly susceptible to chemical weathering. On Mars, which is predominately
mac in composition, terrestrial standards of sediment maturity are not applicable. In addition, the martian climate today is cold and dry and sediments are likely to be heavily inuenced by physical weathering rather than chemical weathering. Due to these large differences in weathering processes and
composition, martian sediments require an alternate maturity index. This paper reports the results of
abrasion tests conducted on a variety of mac materials and results suggest that mature martian sediments may be composed of well sorted, well rounded, spherical polycrystalline materials, such as basalt.
Volcanic glass is also likely to persist in a mechanical weathering environment while more fragile and
chemically altered products are likely to be winnowed away. A modied sediment maturity index is proposed that can be used in future studies to constrain sediment source, paleoclimate, mechanisms for sediment production, and surface evolution. This maturity index may also provide insights into erosional and
sediment transport systems and preservation processes of layered deposits.
2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Mineralogical and physical characterization of sediment grains
on Earth has been an important area of study that has signicantly
increased understanding of sediment source, transport medium
and distance, weathering processes, and paleoenvironments (e.g.,
Bagnold, 1941; Folk, 1951, 1954; Suttner and Dutta, 1986; Weltje
and von Eynatten, 2004; Garcia et al., 2004). The term sediment
maturity has been commonly applied to clastic deposits on Earth
and describes composition as well as grain texture (Folk, 1951;
Boggs, 2006). Sediment maturity refers to the degree to which sediment has been modied by physical and chemical processes. In
general, mature sediment grains are those that are well rounded,
well sorted (consisting of similar sizes), and composed of minerals
that are resistant to aqueous and physical weathering (Folk, 1951;

Corresponding author at: School of Environmental Science, University of Ulster,

Coleraine, UK.
0019-1035/ 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Pettijohn, 1975). The majority of mature terrestrial sands are dominated by quartz, which is abundant in source lithologies on Earth
and is physically and chemically stable under a wide range of
On Mars, however, terrestrial standards of sediment maturity
are not applicable due to the martian surface having a predominantly mac composition (e.g., Christensen et al., 2000;
Bandeld, 2002; Bibring et al., 2005). The presence of mac minerals indicates sediment immaturity under terrestrial conditions
because many common mac minerals are highly susceptible to
chemical weathering, softer than quartz, and may include a wider
assemblage of minerals that contain cleavage planes, making them
less durable during physical transport. The martian climate today
is cold, dry and dominated by wind-blown (aeolian) activity.
Signicant aqueous activity on the martian surface is thought to
have ended early in the planets history with geologic evidence
relating to liquid water on the surface dating to over 3 billion years
ago (e.g., Carr and Head, 2010). Thus, modern martian sediments


C. Cornwall et al. / Icarus 256 (2015) 1321

are likely to have been largely shaped by physical weathering

related to aeolian processes.
Martian sediments require an alternate maturity index that
takes into account the absence of signicant chemical weathering
and the presence of a primarily mac surface composition
(Grotzinger et al., 2011; Titus et al., 2012; Fenton et al., 2013). A
modied sediment maturity index can be used to place constraints
on sediment source, paleoclimate, mechanisms for sediment production, and surface evolution. A maturity index can also provide
insights into erosional and depositional landscapes (sediment
transport systems) and preservation processes of layered deposits.
This study explores the physical durability of a variety of geologic
materials and investigates the changes in grain texture during a
series of abrasion tests. The results of these experiments lead to
the construction of a maturity index (intended for sand-sized clastic aeolian sediments) more appropriate for the martian environment and climate.

2. Sediment samples
The natural terrestrial samples used for this study are mac
sands collected from South Point Beach, Hawaii; Hilo, Hawaii;
and the Moses Lake dune eld in Washington. The Hawaiian sediments are predominantly composed of olivine (South Point) and
volcanic glass (Hilo; Moberly et al., 1965; Marsaglia, 1993). The
Moses Lake sediment is composed of granodiorite and basalt grains
with minor smectite alteration products (Bandeld et al., 2002).
Natural sediment samples were collected and chosen for analysis
based on the composition and environment in which they were
weathered and deposited. The Hawaiian beach sand samples range
in size from 420 lm (South Point) to 560 lm (Hilo) and originate
from a humid environment, where aqueous activity dominates.
The olivine grains of South Point are thought to originate from lava
phenocrysts or crystal ejecta in tuffs from Mauna Loa lava ows
(Moberly et al., 1965) ranging in age from <200 ka to approximately 400 ka (Sharp et al., 1996). These olivine grains were
weathered out of basalt and tuff deposits and subsequently transported to the beach primarily by uvial activity. The volcanic glass
grains originate from Mauna Loa lava ows as well but were
produced when lava came in contact with the ocean and rapidly
cooled (Moberly et al., 1965). The Moses Lake dune eld sand grain
sizes average 237 lm and originate from a relatively arid environment. The basaltic dune sand originated from the Quincy Basin,
where sediment was deposited by one or more of the Missoula
or Channeled Scabland ood events that scoured the underlying
Columbia Basalts between 17,000 and 12,000 years ago (Bretz
et al., 1956; Nummedal, 1978). These sediments were subsequently reworked by aeolian processes. For the purposes of this
study, only weathering textures of basaltic grains were analyzed
from the Moses Lake sediments. Grains of basalt were manually
separated from the granodiorite particles under a microscope.
The abrasion samples were used to determine physical durability of common materials on Mars as well as to provide a comparison to terrestrial quartz-rich sediments. The variety of mac
minerals and volcanic materials were chosen based on remote
sensing observations of Mars. The surface of Mars is predominantly
basaltic in composition and comprised of minerals rich in magnesium and calcium (e.g., Bandeld, 2002). Therefore, the materials
chosen for this study include olivine (forsterite), clinopyroxene
(augite), plagioclase (labradorite), volcanic glass and ne-grained
basalt from the Columbia River Basalt Group volcanic deposits.
The varieties of silica-rich samples that were used to relate abrasion results to familiar terrestrial materials include crystalline
quartz, polycrystalline quartz, and microcrystalline chert.

Unaltered and compositionally pure mineral samples were ordered

from the suppliers Wards Science and D.J. Minerals Inc. Columbia
River Basalt Group rock outcrop samples were collected from localities near Moses Lake, Washington.
3. Analysis techniques
3.1. Natural samples
SEM images were used to investigate differences in grain
weathering textures between humid (Hawaiian) and arid (Moses
Lake) climates and to determine the amount of inuence aqueous
processes have on shaping volcanic sediments (Marshall et al.,
1987). In addition, to better constrain the effects of aqueous
weathering, the basaltic grains from Moses Lake were also compared to the abraded Columbia River basalt sample to investigate
differences in grain texture and to see if the physical weathering
textures present on the Moses Lake basalt grains could be replicated using a Bond air mill.
3.2. Abrasion tests
In preparation for abrasion, the mac minerals, silica-rich materials, and Columbia River basalt were crushed, sifted and sorted
into approximate equidimensional grain shapes with sizes
between 2 and 3 mm. Abrasion tests were conducted using a modied Bond air mill following the design and convention of
Nitkiewicz and Sterner (1988). The modied Bond air mill used
in this study has similar dimensions to the mill employed by
Nitkiewicz and Sterner (1988), Fig. 1, with inner walls composed
of 320 lm silicon carbide grit mixed with an epoxy resin and copper tubing employed for the forced-air entrance. Compressed air is
connected to the air entrance of the mill through rubber tubing
and, when turned on, causes mineral fragments within the chamber to rapidly roll around the interior cylindrical track and quickly
become well rounded and spherical.
Each abrasion experiment consisted of 100 grains, following the
grain analysis method of Rosenfeld et al. (1953), and was conducted for each mineral and volcanic material separately. These
samples are hereafter referred to as the homogenous samples.
The nal abrasion experiment consisted of a mixture of 50% basalt
grains and the remaining 50% consisted of equal parts of other
mac minerals and materials including: olivine, pyroxene, labradorite, volcanic glass, and a Mg-rich phyllosilicate. A basaltic mixture was included in the abrasion tests to investigate potential
differences in abrasion rates and durability of minerals as they
were abraded together. This sample is hereafter referred to as
the heterogeneous sample.
Due to the small size of the Bond air mill, 10 separate batches of
10 grains were run at a time to provide data for 100 grains for each
sample composition. To ensure consistency between batches,
grains were weighed so that each batch only had a difference of
0.005 g, as larger differences tended to cause grains to abrade
more rapidly or slowly than other batches, thus introducing inconsistences in abrasion rates. Grains were abraded using a constant
ow of compressed air at approximately 62 kPa to ensure the
grains were not being abraded at different rates than other batches.
The airow used was strong enough to roll the grains rapidly
around the cylindrical track inside the air mill, following the convention described in Nitkiewicz and Sterner (1988). A ne mesh
was glued over the air exit on the mill and prevented grains larger
than 400 lm from escaping. The air exit also ensured that signicant amounts of dust did not accumulate in the mill preventing
variability in the abrasion effectiveness between samples.

C. Cornwall et al. / Icarus 256 (2015) 1321


providing a precise and detailed analysis of a wide range of particle

shapes using CAMSIZER analysis software (e.g., Lo Castro et al.,
2009; Miller and Henderson, 2010; Patchigolla and Wilkinson,
2010; Jerolmack et al., 2011). Particle shape parameters that are
collected in this study include size, roundness, and sphericity.
Particle shape measurements were collected on the natural
samples and each homogenous grain sample before abrasion and
after each abrasion run. Grain size is calculated from the number
of pixels a grain silhouette occupies in images captured by the high
and low-resolution cameras inside CAMSIZER. Grain roundness is
computed using the formula:

4pA=P2 ;
where A is the area of the grain silhouette and P is the perimeter of
the grain. Roundness values close to 1 indicate that a grain is well
rounded. Sphericity measurements are calculated by dividing the
width by length of the grain (minimum extension divided by the
maximum extension). Values close to 1 indicate that a grain shape
is highly spherical.
In addition, the amount of material being abraded during the
abrasion tests was recorded for the homogenous samples.
Sediment samples were weighed prior to abrasion and in-between
each abrasion run and recorded as the percentage of material lost
to equalize between variances in mineral properties and small differences in sample weights.
3.4. Grain surface textures

Fig. 1. Figure adapted from Nitkiewicz and Sterner (1988) showing design and
dimensions (in mm) of Bond air mill. The modied air mill used in this study has
similar dimensions and is composed entirely of silicon carbide with copper tubing
for the air entrance but lacks guidepins.

Each homogenous batch was run at increments of 15 min for

the rst hour then 30-min increments for another hour and
30 min. The homogeneous samples were primarily used to investigate relative rates of changes in grain morphology and size of each
separate material. The heterogeneous batches were abraded until
all material was gone and were also used to rank the durability
of each material in a basaltic mixture.

Details of grain surface textures and the effects of chemical and/

or physical weathering were examined for the natural sediments
as well as a few abraded samples using a scanning electron microscope (JEOL JSM5200). SEM images were taken of the Hawaiian
samples, Moses Lake dune eld sediment, as well as the abraded
crystalline olivine, volcanic glass and Columbia River Basalt from
the homogenous samples. Grains were mounted on a specimen
stub using carbon tape and sputter-coated with gold to prevent
the accumulation of electrostatic charge on the grain surface during imaging. For the Hawaiian and Moses Lake samples, a series
of images were captured at a variety of magnications to accentuate evidence of chemical and physical weathering on the grain surfaces (Krinsley and Doornkamp, 1973; Margolis and Krinsley,
1974; Marshall et al., 1987). A series of images at various magnications were also taken for the abraded samples to explore the textures created using the Bond air mill. Comparison of grain surface
textures of nautral and abraded samples provides a means to
determine how much of an inuence aqueous weathering has on
grain morphology and how grain textures might differ in the arid
martian environment.
4. Results

3.3. Shape analysis

4.1. Abrasion and shape analysis

Measurements of grain size and shape characteristics were

made using a CAMSIZER by Retsch Technology. CAMSIZER employs
dynamic digital image processing described in the International
Organization for Standardization ISO 13322-2 (
Measurements involve the projection of grain silhouettes in transmitted light as they free fall past the detector from a feeding chute.
A high-resolution and low-resolution camera record the projected
shadows, allowing for high accuracy size measurements of particles ranging from 30 lm to 30 mm in diameter with a maximum
inaccuracy of 0.1 lm for each grain (e.g., Lo Castro and
Andronico, 2009; Jerolmack et al., 2011). The particles are scanned
in 64 directions and 60 frames are captured every second,

Grain shape and rounding changed most dramatically within

the rst 15 min of abrasion for all samples. The rate of material loss
was also the greatest during the rst 15 min (Fig. 2) as angular
grain edges were chipped off and smoothed. Once grain edges
became more smoothed, the rate of material loss signicantly
decreased and grains became increasingly rounded (Fig. 3). The
homogenous sample of olivine obtained the highest degree of
sphericity and grain rounding of all the minerals after two hours
of abrasion. It was also the rst mineral sample to be eroded to
particles <400 lm (Fig. 2). Augite and labradorite were also quickly
abraded but became at and oblong and never achieved high
sphericity like the olivine grains (Fig. 3). The most durable


C. Cornwall et al. / Icarus 256 (2015) 1321

Fig. 2. Rate of material loss vs abrasion time in minutes. Colors correspond to

Columbia River Basalt, red; polycrystalline quartz, light gray; microcrystalline chert,
blue; volcanic glass, black; crystalline quartz, dark gray; labradorite, violet; augite,
orange; and olivine, green. Varieties of quartz are plotted as square symbols with
dashed lines; volcanic materials are circles with solid lines; minerals containing
cleavage planes are triangles with dot-dashed lines; olivine is a diamond symbol
with a solid line. (For interpretation of the references to color in this gure legend,
the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

materials of the homogenous samples were the volcanic glass and

the Columbia River Basalt (Fig. 2). Of the mac materials, the volcanic glass and basalt were the slowest to decrease in grain size
and increase in sphericity and roundness (Fig. 3). After 2 h and
30 min, the volcanic glass and basalt grains had the lowest value
of roundness.
Of the silica-rich materials, polycrystalline quartz was the most
durable and mono-crystalline quartz was the least durable. After
two hours of abrasion, mono-crystalline quartz grains had a higher
sphericity and similar rounding values to polycrystalline quartz
and chert (Fig. 4). Chert grains were more durable than crystalline
quartz but less durable than polycrystalline quartz and had a
higher sphericity compared to polycrystalline quartz after 2 h of
abrasion. Grain shape characteristics of silica-rich samples were
compared to olivine, volcanic glass, and basalt and shape analysis
results suggest that the basalt grain morphologies evolve similarly
to polycrystalline quartz grains. Grain shapes for volcanic glass
during abrasion evolved differently than the basalt grains and
the morphology more closely matched mono-crystalline quartz
in regard to sphericity and rounding. The greatest difference
between mono-crystalline quartz and volcanic glass was grain size,
where mono-crystalline quartz grains were smaller after 2 h of
abrasion. Olivine grain shapes evolved more rapidly and did not
abrade in a manner similar to any kind of silica-rich material.
The abrasion results for the heterogeneous sample differ from
that of the homogenous samples. Grain shapes evolved at a slower
rate and the materials, especially olivine, lasted longer during abrasion (Figs. 5 and 6). The Mg-rich phyllosilicate rapidly broke down
into thin sheets and ne-grained particles after the rst 15 min of
abrasion and was eventually abraded into particles <400 lm. After
75 min of abrasion, the phyllosilicate material was completely
gone from the air mill. After another 120 min of abrasion, augite
was also abraded to dust while a few larger grains of labradorite
persisted for much longer. Olivine grains persisted signicantly
beyond 2 h of abrasion (Fig. 6) and outlasted the labradorite by
60 min. The basalt and volcanic glass grains are the most durable
materials but the basalt signicantly outlasted the volcanic glass
by 3 h of abrasion. After 7 h of abrasion, both the basalt and the
volcanic glass grains had achieved high values of rounding and
sphericity (Fig. 6).

Fig. 3. Graphs of grain shape changes during homogenous abrasion tests including
grain size (A), sphericity (B), and roundness (C) vs abrasion time. Colors represent
olivine (green), Columbia River Basalt (red), volcanic glass (black), augite (orange),
and labradorite (violet). Volcanic materials are plotted as circle symbols with solid
lines; minerals containing cleavage planes are triangles with dot-dashed lines;
olivine is represented as a diamond symbol with a solid line. Solid points joined by
lines in (A) represent the 50th percentile value of the sample. Solid points joined by
lines in (B) and (C) represent average values of shape parameters. Hollow points
represent the minimum value of the sample and correspond to the shape and color
of the solid points. Capped lines above solid points show the maximum value for
each mineral sample. (For interpretation of the references to color in this gure
legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

4.2. Grain texture

SEM images of Hawaiian grain surfaces show more evidence of
aqueous weathering textures than the Moses Lake dune eld sediments and both samples displayed abundant physical weathering
textures. The olivine grains from South Point Beach, Hawaii show
extensive chemical pitting on the grain surfaces, (Fig. 7A) as well

C. Cornwall et al. / Icarus 256 (2015) 1321


Fig. 5. Heterogeneous abrasion results showing percent of material lost vs time in

minutes. Heterogenous abrasion sample consisted of 50% Columbia River Basalt
(red) and remaining parts equal portions of volcanic glass (black), olivine (green),
labradorite (violet), augite (orange), and phyllosilicate (brown). Volcanic materials
are plotted as circle symbols with solid lines; minerals containing cleavage planes
are triangles with dot-dashed lines; olivine is displayed as a diamond symbol with a
solid line. (For interpretation of the references to color in this gure legend, the
reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

The abraded homogenous samples of olivine, volcanic glass, and

basalt show similarities in grain surface textures due to physical
abrasion to that of the Hawaiian and Moses Lake samples. The surface of an un-abraded Columbia River basalt grain is shown in
Fig. 8A. Fig. 8B and C shows the textural differences between the
abraded basalt and the natural sample from Moses Lake, respectively. The abraded samples lack evidence of chemical weathering
inuences and, instead, show extensive signs of chipping and
scratching on all grain surfaces (Fig. 8B). These surface textures
are far more pervasive on the abraded samples than the natural
samples. The most notable difference between the sediment samples is the overall smoothness of the grains. The abraded grains are
rougher than the natural samples, which have sharp edges and
debris fragments clinging to the surface (Fig. 8B). The radiating
fractures observed on the Moses Lake basaltic sand grains were
not present on any of the abraded basalt grains.
5. Discussion
5.1. Abrasion and shape analysis

Fig. 4. (A) Grain size vs% material passing a particular sieve size, (B) sphericity (b/l)
vs sample volume percent, and (C) rounding (SPHT) vs sample volume percent of
crystalline quartz (light blue squares), microcrystalline chert (medium blue
triangles), polycrystalline quartz (dark blue circles), Columbia River Basalt (red
circles), volcanic glass (black triangles), and olivine (green diamonds) after two
hours of abrasion. (For interpretation of the references to color in this gure legend,
the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

as scratches (Fig. 7B) and chipping from abrasion. The surface of

the Hilo, Hawaii volcanic glass sample is covered in microscopic
gas vesicles and displays similar chemical pitting and scratching
textures as identied on the olivine grain but there is more evidence of chipping. Chipping textures were primarily observed
inside depressions of vesicles (Fig. 7C). The surfaces of the basalt
grains from the Moses Lake dune eld are not as smooth as the
sand grains from Hawaii. Chemical pitting was identied on the
basalt grains but scratches and chipping are not as obvious. The
basalt grains also display a number of microscopic fractures, typically radiating out from a central point (Fig. 7D). Microscopic fractures are not present on any of the Hawaiian samples that were

The rapid changes in grain size and morphology within the rst
15 min of abrasion are due to the rounding and chipping of jagged
edges and, for some minerals, cleaving along planes of weakness.
This process creates multiple small grains and the rate of material
lost declines as grains attain a more physically stable, spherical
Olivine was the least durable material abraded of the homogenous samples. It has a similar Mohs hardness to quartz with identical fracture habits but may be more susceptible to abrasion due
to differences in crystalline structure and density (Willetts,
1983). Minerals that possess cleavage planes, such as labradorite
and augite, were moderately durable and abraded into thin, elongate, tabular grains. A comparison between different forms of
quartz showed discrepancies in abrasion rates. Crystalline quartz
(from a single crystal), as used in this experiment, was found to
abrade more rapidly than polycrystalline quartz. Polycrystalline
quartz is composed of multiple quartz crystal fragments of variable
grain sizes and, in the case of chert, the grains are composed of
microscopic crystal fragments. Previous studies have shown that
mono-crystalline structures are less durable during physical
transport than polycrystalline forms due to the formation of


C. Cornwall et al. / Icarus 256 (2015) 1321

Fig. 6. Minerals in a heterogeneous basaltic mixture at various stages of abrasion (45 min, 225 min and 540 min). Minerals shown here include Columbia River Basalt (CRB),
olivine (ol), labradorite (Plag), augite (CPX), volcanic glass (VG), and Phyllosilicate (PS) and are from the same experiment batch. These images correlate with results shown in
Fig. 5. We considered grains after 45 min of abrasion to represent an immature texture and composition; 225 min represents mature grains; and 540 min represents
supermature grains where only basalt and volcanic glass remain with highly spherical shapes.

Fig. 7. Chemical and physical weathering textures of terrestrial grains (Krinsley and Doornkamp, 1973; Marshall et al., 1987). (A) Aqueous pitting due to chemical weathering
on an olivine grain from South Point Beach, Hawaii. (B) scratches due to abrasion on the same olivine grain. (C) Gas vesicles and chipping on the surface of a volcanic glass
grain from Hilo, Hawaii. (D) Fracture on the surface of a basalt grain from Moses Lake.

micro-fractures that easily propagate through a single crystal

(Harrell and Blatt, 1978). In applying the Grifth Fracture
Theory, Brace (1961) describes how pre-existing aws in a single
crystalline structure result in macroscopic fractures that spread
under stress. Fractures also form in polycrystalline materials but
do not propagate past individual grain boundaries, resulting in
an increased resistance to physical stress (Brace, 1961).
The Columbia River basalt grains were the most durable material tested in this study with grain morphologies that evolved similarly to polycrystalline quartz during abrasion. The durability of
basalt may be due to the fact that it is polycrystalline, being composed of a variety of mac minerals of variable grain sizes, such as
olivine, plagioclase and pyroxene. Hence, the mechanical durability
of aeolian sediment on Mars may not be controlled by the physical
properties of individual minerals but rather by the crystalline texture of the materials.
The heterogeneous sample abrasion results were used as a basis
for a mac sediment maturity index (Fig. 9). Minerals lasted longer
during abrasion most likely due to the presence of the phyllosilicate mineral, which rapidly broke apart into thin sheets and ne
particles within the rst 45 min, resulting in decreased effectiveness of abrasion inside the air mill. Augite became completely

abraded to dust after about 3 h and 15 min and the labradorite

was abraded to dust after about 4 h and 45 min. This difference
in abrasion times of augite and labradorite is most likely due to
the difference in mineral hardness, where labradorite is harder
than augite on the Mohs scale. The Columbia River basalt grains
outlasted the volcanic glass during abrasion by about 3 h and the
olivine grains by approximately 5 h. This experiment suggests that
basalt is the most resistant to abrasion and should be abundant in
martian aeolian sedimentary deposits. However, these experiments do not take into account ductile response to stress, which
has been observed in some materials during transport and abrasion. Tumbling experiments conducted on gypsum and quartz have
shown that quartz (albeit harder) abraded more rapidly than
gypsum (Szynkiewicz et al., 2013). This difference in abrasion is
most likely due to the brittle nature of quartz. The materials in this
study demonstrate a predominantly brittle response to stress with
the exception of the phyllosilicate mineral in the heterogenous
abrasion sample. The phyllosilicate mineral was the rst material
to be abraded to dust and it is possible that the presence of harder
materials and minerals aided in the abrasion of the softer phyllosilicate. In the study conducted by Szynkiewicz et al. (2013), they
found the quartz grains had signicantly abraded the interior of

C. Cornwall et al. / Icarus 256 (2015) 1321


Fig. 9. Textural and compositional maturity index for mac sediments on Mars.
Materials with high physical durability are polycrystalline basalt and volcanic glass.
Materials indicating immature sediments contain minerals with cleavage planes
that weaken physical durability. Olivine may indicate a local or more regional
source depending on the other minerals present in the sediment. Fig. 6 displays
examples of immature, mature and supermature grains produced during abrasion

Fig. 8. Differences in grain textures of basalt grains. (A) Unabraded Columbia River
Basalt grain. (B) Abraded Columbia River Basalt after 14 h of abrasion. (C) Basalt
grain from Moses Lake dune eld.

the quartz ask used for tumbling, resulting in an increase of the

sample mass. In contrast, the gypsum sample mass slightly
decreased. This may suggest that in the presence of harder minerals, elastic materials may still abrade more rapidly. Future studies
will need to be conducted to determine how durable elastic minerals (such as gypsum) are in a mixture of hard, brittle materials.
5.2. Proposed martian sediment maturity index
Martian dune elds composed of mature sediments could be
composed of a mixture of basalt and volcanic glass grains (Figs. 6
and 9) as well as chemically derived minerals such as sulfates
and salts that were weathered locally or in situ. Immature sediments are likely to include individual pyroxene and plagioclase
crystals in the sediment and the source material is most likely local
(Figs. 6 and 9). The morphological differences between the elongated, tabular grains of pyroxene and plagioclase to those of spherical grains of volcanic materials and minerals without cleavage

planes would result in sorting effects during aeolian transport.

Some wind tunnel experiments have shown that grains with a
lower sphericity were more readily transported than spherical
grains but only at low wind speeds (Williams, 1964; Willetts
et al., 1982). Particles having a low sphericity also had longer
and atter saltation trajectories than spherical grains but spherical
grains exhibited more aeolian bed activity, whereas low sphericity
grains were less frequently dislodged (Willetts, 1983; Rice, 1991).
Thus, aeolian transport is the most effective for spherical grains. It
is likely that minerals with cleavage planes will become segregated
from spherical grains and accumulate in different areas of a dune
eld. However, it is improbable that grains with a low sphericity
will be transported long distances due to their susceptibility to
mechanical erosion in combination with aeolian sorting effects.
Therefore, it is unlikely that plagioclase and pyroxene minerals will
be present in mature aeolian sediments as individual crystals,
which have traveled far from the sand source.
The presence of olivine in an aeolian deposit depends on multiple factors including availability, transport distance, and crystalline
structure of the mineral. Source material may be olivine rich or
olivine poor basalts, affecting the amount of olivine available for
aeolian transport. Olivine also has a higher density than most mac
minerals and volcanic materials that may result in selective transport of less dense particles especially at low wind speeds (Willetts,
1983). Aeolian sorting effects due to density differences may limit
the distance olivine grains travel from the source material. Lastly,
mono-crystalline olivine is likely to be less durable during physical
transport than polycrystalline olivine. If martian olivine grains are
polycrystalline, it is likely that they may be transported longer distances from the source material. Therefore, interpreting the composition of aeolian deposits on Mars for a maturity index
requires knowledge of the local bedrock composition as well as
the geologic history (e.g. uvial processes) of an area to account
for changes in olivine abundance during aeolian transport and
5.3. Olivine in martian sediments
Remote sensing and lander observations have shown that the
presence of olivine in sediments is highly variable and is strongly
dependent on the local weathering environment/history. In general,
the northern plains are predominantly composed of high-silica


C. Cornwall et al. / Icarus 256 (2015) 1321

phases and depleted in pyroxene and olivine, while the southern

highlands are composed of plagioclase and high-calcium pyroxene
with an enrichment of low-calcium pyroxene and olivine relative
to younger crust (Bandeld et al., 2000; Mustard et al., 2005;
Rogers and Christensen, 2007; Koeppen and Hamilton, 2008;
Poulet et al., 2009). Dune elds located in the northern plains are
often enriched in gypsum (Langevin et al., 2005; Horgan et al.,
2009; Masse et al., 2010) and low-albedo (dark) aeolian sediments
in the southern highlands are typically composed of mac minerals
seemingly unaltered by aqueous activity (Jaumann et al., 2006).
These sediments are commonly composed of plagioclase and high
calcium pyroxene with variable amounts of olivine and low calcium
pyroxene (Tirsch et al., 2011). In a few cases of southern highland
intercrater dune elds, enrichment in olivine spectral signatures
was found in otherwise olivine-poor basaltic regions (Tirsch et al.,
2011). These areas of olivine enrichment might be due to mechanical
segregation, where aeolian sorting has preferentially transported
and deposited olivine similar to volcanic sands in Iceland
(Mangold et al., 2011). Other areas on Mars, for example Nili
Fossae, Argyre Planitia, Gusev Crater, Isidis Planitia, and Ganges
and Eos Chasmas have high-thermal inertia surfaces rich in olivine
but the surrounding sediments are olivine poor (Hamilton and
Christensen, 2005; Yen et al., 2005; Ruff et al., 2006; Bandeld and
Rogers, 2008; Edwards et al., 2008). These sediments could have
experienced chemical alteration by acidic uids that preferentially
weathered olivine crystals (Tosca et al., 2004; Hurowitz et al.,
2006; Stopar et al., 2006; Bandeld et al., 2011) or this observation
could be an indication of differing mineral durability during aeolian
transport. Olivine has been observed to be present in young, small,
active-looking dunes in the southern highlands (Tirsch et al., 2011)
and is generally found in association with pyroxene (Poulet et al.,
2007). The presence of olivine in geologically young aeolian deposits
along with mechanically fragile pyroxene may suggest that olivine is
largely mono-crystalline on Mars and mechanically weathers more
quickly than other mac sediments, consistent with the abrasion
results in this study.

5.4. Weathering textures

The natural sediment samples have smoother grain surfaces
than the mechanically abraded grain samples (Fig. 8). This suggests
that even in arid environments, such as Moses Lake, aqueous processes have a considerable impact on grain surface texture. Grains
on Mars have probably been predominantly shaped by mechanical
weathering with little aqueous interaction and may have rougher
surface textures, similar to those created from the abrasion tests.
In addition, immature deposits may be composed of grains that
are more angular with rougher surface textures compared to
immature terrestrial sediments. Alternatively, martian grains
may have been subject to some aqueous weathering depending
on their location and age of the deposit. Aqueous inuences may
be found in aeolian sediments that have been previously transported by uvial processes early in Mars history or inactive dune
elds that have been stabilized by geochemical cements (Gardin
et al., 2011) or seasonal ice (Bourke, 2005). Polar aeolian deposits
may have signicantly different grain textures compared to equatorial aeolian deposits, due to possible chemical reactions from
annual cycles of frost deposition and sublimation. Fracturing
observed on the surfaces of Moses Lake basalt sands could not be
replicated by abrasion alone. The presence of such fractures suggests that an additional physical process is present, such as cycles
of heating and cooling. It is possible that these additional processes
are also active on Mars, affecting the rate of physical weathering of
martian basaltic grains, especially in the polar regions.

6. Conclusion
Abrasion of a variety of mac materials indicates that mature
martian sediments are likely composed of very well sorted, well
rounded, spherical poly-crystalline basalt grains (Figs. 6 and 9).
Any volcanic glass present is also likely to persist in this environment (Figs. 6 and 9) while chemically altered products are likely
to be weathered locally or in situ. Immature sediments are likely
to contain minerals with cleavage planes and be poorly sorted,
sub rounded and angular (Figs. 6 and 9). The presence and relative
abundance of olivine may be used as an index mineral, indicating
local and regional sources as well as sediment maturity and relative deposit age.
As grain surface textures in arid environments on Earth appear
to be heavily inuenced by aqueous interaction, grain surfaces are
likely to have rougher textures because physical weathering processes have dominated the surface of Mars for the past 3 billion
Special thanks to Dave McDougall for help involving equipment
training and sample preparation in the laboratory, Dr. Hanson Fong
for SEM sample preparation, and Mike Harrell for donating some
mineral samples and use of his modied Bond air mill which made
this study possible. This research was partially funded by a
University of Washington departmental research grant in the
department of Earth and Space Sciences. Any use of trade, rm,
or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not
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