The Hydro-Mars project

The Hydro-Mars team are studying iron and magnesium-rich clays from hydrothermal seafloor environments around the world, to better understand the nature of ancient clays on Mars. 

Submarine hydrothermal sites on Earth are known for their black smokers, jets of super-heated fluids loaded with metals. Clays forming in these environments are similar to ancient Martian clays.

Current research

Museum scientists on the Hydro-Mars team are comparing infrared spectra of clays from Earth and Mars, to investigate the similarities of their spectral features.

They are also comparing the formation temperatures of submarine clays on Earth with their Martian counterparts. This will reveal more about the environment on Mars where the clays formed. 

Understanding the environmental conditions during the formation of these materials is central to revealing Mars’ geology and climate history, and the habitability of its past environments.

Complex clays

The Hydro-Mars team have found that iron and magnesium exchange for each other in submarine clays, and that mixed-layer clays of intermediate composition and structure are very abundant.

The research suggests:

  • Mixed-layer clays may be much more common in nature than previously thought, which is of great interest for Mars research, as it may indicate that complex clays are abundant on the Red Planet.
  • Some Martian clays were caught in a state of ‘arrested development’, where the aqueous conditions in which they formed may have been short-lived or otherwise unstable.
  • Other Martian clays formed in hydrothermal conditions that could have been suitable for the formation or sustenance of microbial life.
Contact us

Dr Javier Cuadros
Economic and Environmental Earth Sciences Division
Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road

+44 (0)20 7942 5543

Supported by

The Hydro-Mars project is funded by the European Commission, as an Intra-European Marie Curie Fellowship.