A Reexamination of Deuterium Fractionation on Mars

A. Pathare, D.A. Paige (UCLA)

The ratio of deuterium to hydrogen in the Martian atmosphere is enhanced by a factor of 5 with respect to the terrestrial value, probably due to fractionation associated with thermal Jeans escape from the top of the atmosphere. Theoretical analyses of the relative efficiency of H and D escape have suggested that the deuterium enrichment implies Mars has outgassed the vast majority of its tex2html_wrap_inline14 and that the Martian atmosphere is presently not exchanging water with a juvenile reservoir. However, measurements of high and variable D/H values within hydrous minerals in SNC meteorites strongly suggest that mixing between the atmosphere and juvenile water has taken place. Furthermore, the lack of any observed enrichment of atmospheric tex2html_wrap_inline16 with respect to tex2html_wrap_inline18 , in spite of fractionating nonthermal escape mechanisms, indicates buffering by some juvenile source of oxygen, most probably in the form of a surface or subsurface reservoir of water. We propose that this apparent paradox in the interpretation of isotopic hydrogen and oxygen fractionation -or lack thereof- can be resolved by re-examining the standard model of deuterium fractionation efficiency on Mars. Specifically, we demonstrate the importance of using upper atmospheric temperatures more representative of the range experienced by the Martian exosphere over the course of the solar cycle. Preliminary calculations involving changes in effusion velocity and diffusive separation as a function of exospheric temperature indicate that incorporating these more representative lower exospheric temperatures will reduce the relative efficiency of D escape, in which case the observed enrichment of deuterium can indeed result from exchange with a juvenile source of water. We are in the process of confirming these computations with a one-dimensional upper atmospheric photochemical model that considers the effects of changing solar activity and exospheric temperature on ionospheric composition. If our initial calculations are correct, and the relative efficiency of D escape is low enough to produce the observed D enrichment by exchange with a juvenile reservoir, then attempts to use the present value of atmospheric D/H to infer the total water outgassed by Mars over billions of years would be in error, since the atmospheric D/H would approach its present value in less than a million years of continual exposure to juvenile water.