Detection of Abiotic Methane in Terrestrial Continental Hydrothermal Systems : Implications for Methane on Mars
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- The recent detection of methane in the Martian atmosphere and the possibility that its origin could be attributed to biological activity, have highlighted the importance of understanding the mechanisms of methane formation and its usefulness as a biomarker. Much debate has centered on the source of the methane in hydrothermal fluids, whether it is formed biologically by microorganisms, diagenetically through the decomposition of sedimentary organic matter, or inorganically via reduction of CO2 at high temperatures. Ongoing research has now shown that much of the methane present in sea-floor hydrothermal systems is probably formed through inorganic CO2 reduction processes at very high temperatures (greater than 400 C). Experimental results have indicated that methane might form inorganically at temperatures lower still, however these results remain controversial. Currently, methane in continental hydrothermal systems is thought to be formed mainly through the breakdown of sedimentary organic matter and carbon isotope equilibrium between CO2 and CH4 is thought to be rarely present if at all. Based on isotopic measurements of CO2 and CH4 in two continental hydrothermal systems, we suggest that carbon isotope equilibration exists at temperatures as low as 155 C. This would indicate that methane is forming through abiotic CO2 reduction at lower temperatures than previously thought and could bolster arguments for an abiotic origin of the methane detected in the martian atmosphere.
- NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) Collection.
- Document ID: 20080013258.
39th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference; 10-14 Mar. 2008; League City, TX; United States.
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