Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Elisabeth M. Hausrath

Second Committee Member

Eugene Smith

Third Committee Member

Adam Simon

Fourth Committee Member

Oliver Tschauner

Fifth Committee Member

Henry Sun

Sixth Committee Member

Paul Forster

Number of Pages



This dissertation is comprised of three studies focused on martian phosphate availability, with an introductory chapter introducing and linking the three studies. Chapter two is on the subject of merrillite synthesis. Merrillite is an extraterrestrial Ca-phosphate mineral similar to the mineral whitlockite and is found as a dominant primary phosphate mineral in martian meteorites. The chapter includes methods of whitlockite and merrillite synthesis as well as a detailed characterization of the produced minerals and a mechanism by which charge balance can be maintained when merrillite is synthesized through dehydrogenation of whitlockite.

Chapter three presents the results of kinetic and thermodynamic studies on the Mars-relevant minerals chlorapatite and merrillite, as well as the more terrestrially-relevant minerals whitlockite and fluorapatite. The results of these studies indicate that the dominant primary Ca-phosphate minerals on Mars possess higher solubilities that could lead to more than twice the phosphate concentration in solution. Dissolution rates for the Mars-relevant minerals derived in the study, when combined with the higher martian phosphorus abundance, could result in phosphate release rates of up to 45x faster for a given set of aqueous conditions on Mars when compared to Earth. The implications of the results for past or present martian habitability are discussed.

In Chapter four, reactive transport modeling was applied to investigate the transport and mobility of phosphate under martian conditions. The kinetic and thermodynamic data derived in Chapter three were combined with Mars mission data, results from an investigation of Mars analog basalts at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, and previously published data to inform a reactive transport code and model dissolution profiles measured by Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Spirit in Wishstone class rocks. The modeling results suggest phosphate release into near-neutral waters occurred at some point in the past at Gusev Crater on Mars with positive implications for past martian habitability.


Astrobiology; Exobiology; Life – Origin; Life on Mars; Life on other planets; Mars (Planet); Mars (Planet) – Exploration; Mars (Planet) – Geology; Origin of life; Phosphates; Planet exploration


Astrophysics and Astronomy | Biology | Geochemistry | Geology | The Sun and the Solar System

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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