A Lower Limit of Atmospheric Pressure on Early Mars Inferred from Nitrogen and Argon Isotopic Compositions

Hiroyuki Kurokawa, Kosuke Kurosawa, Tomohiro Usui

In Press, Accepted Manuscript, Available online 24 August 2017


• Isotopic composition of early atmosphere recorded in ALH 84001 has been reported
• Taking escape/replenishment processes into account, atmospheric evolution is simulated
• Early atmospheric pressure is constrained by comparison to the isotopic data
• We conclude that the Martian atmospheric pressure was higher than ∼0.5 bar at ∼4 Ga”

“We examine the history of the loss and replenishment of the Martian atmosphere using elemental and isotopic compositions of nitrogen and noble gases. The evolution of the atmosphere is calculated by taking into consideration various processes: impact erosion and replenishment by asteroids and comets, atmospheric escape induced by solar radiation and wind, volcanic degassing, and gas deposition by interplanetary dust particles. Our model reproduces the elemental and isotopic compositions of N and noble gases (except for Xe) in the Martian atmosphere, as inferred from exploration missions and analyses of Martian meteorites. Other processes such as ionization-induced fractionation, which are not included in our model, are likely to make a large contribution in producing the current Xe isotope composition. Since intense impacts during the heavy bombardment period greatly affect the atmospheric mass, the atmospheric pressure evolves stochastically. Whereas a dense atmosphere preserves primitive isotopic compositions, a thin atmosphere on early Mars is severely influenced by stochastic impact events and following escape-induced fractionation. The onset of fractionation following the decrease in atmospheric pressure is explained by shorter timescales of isotopic fractionation under a lower atmospheric pressure. The comparison of our numerical results with the less fractionated N (15N/14N) and Ar (38Ar/36Ar) isotope compositions of the ancient atmosphere recorded in the Martian meteorite Allan Hills 84001 provides a lower limit of the atmospheric pressure in 4 Ga to preserve the primitive isotopic compositions. We conclude that the atmospheric pressure was higher than approximately 0.5 bar at 4 Ga.”