Weathering of post-impact hydrothermal deposits from the Haughton impact structure: implications for microbial colonization and biosignature preservation

M. R. M. Izawa, N. R. Banerjee, G. R. Osinski, R. L. Flemming, J. Parnell, C. S. Cockell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Meteorite impacts are among the very few processes common to all planetary bodies with solid surfaces. Among the effects of impact on water-bearing targets is the formation of post-impact hydrothermal systems and associated mineral deposits. The Haughton impact structure (Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada, 75.2 degrees N, 89.5 degrees W) hosts a variety of hydrothermal mineral deposits that preserve assemblages of primary hydrothermal minerals commonly associated with secondary oxidative/hydrous weathering products. Hydrothermal mineral deposits at Haughton include intra-breccia calcite-marcasite vugs, small intra-breccia calcite or quartz vugs, intra-breccia gypsum megacryst vugs, hydrothermal pipe structures and associated surface "gossans," banded Fe-oxyhydroxide deposits, and calcite and quartz veins and coatings in shattered target rocks. Of particular importance are sulfide-rich deposits and their associated assemblage of weathering products. Hydrothermal mineral assemblages were characterized structurally, texturally, and geochemically with X-ray diffraction, micro X-ray diffraction, optical and electron microscopy, and inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy. Primary sulfides (marcasite and pyrite) are commonly associated with alteration minerals, including jarosite (K,Na,H3O) Fe-3(SO4)(2)(OH)(6), rozenite FeSO4 center dot 4(H2O), copiapite (Fe, Mg) Fe-4(SO4)(6)(OH)(2)center dot 20(H2O), fibroferrite Fe(SO4)(OH)center dot 5(H2O), melanterite FeSO4 center dot 7(H2O), szomolnokite FeSO4 center dot H2O, goethite alpha-FeO(OH), lepidocrocite gamma-FeO(OH) and ferrihydrite Fe2O3 center dot 0.5(H2O). These alteration assemblages are consistent with geochemical conditions that were locally very different from the predominantly circumneutral, carbonate-buffered environment at Haughton.

Mineral assemblages associated with primary hydrothermal activity, and the weathering products of such deposits, provide constraints on possible microbial activity in the post-impact environment. The initial period of active hydrothermal circulation produced primary mineral assemblages, including Fe sulfides, and was succeeded by a period dominated by oxidation and low-temperature hydration of primary minerals by surface waters. Active hydrothermal circulation can enable the rapid delivery of nutrients to microbes. Nutrient availability following the cessation of hydrothermal circulation is likely more restricted; therefore, the biological importance of chemical energy from hydrothermal mineral deposits increases with time. Weathering of primary hydrothermal deposits and dissolution and reprecipitation of mobile weathering products also create many potential habitats for endolithic microbes. They also provide a mechanism that may preserve biological materials, potentially over geological timescales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-550
Number of pages14
Issue number6
Early online date18 Jul 2011
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2011


  • impacts
  • hydrothermal systems
  • iron sulfides
  • Haughton crater
  • Devon Island
  • organic geochemistry
  • crater formation
  • Arctic Canada
  • comet impacts
  • systems
  • life
  • habitats
  • Mars
  • signatures


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