Soils on Earth and Mars are derived from rocks and sediments by several soil-forming processes including alteration by liquid water. We characterize a variety of synthetic and terrestrial soils including soils from the Antarctic Dry Valleys and the Atacama Desert as analogs for soils and soil-forming processes on Mars. Our research has provided mineralogical and chemical data on soils and soil-forming processes that has been used to interpret data returned from Mars rovers and landers, including the Mars Exploration Rovers, the Mars Phoenix Scout Missions, and the Mars Science Lab (MSL).
Solution chemistry analyses (atomic absorption spectroscopy (AA, below left), ion chromatography (IC, below right), pH, electrical conductivity, etc.) located in the Analytical Geochemistry lab are an integral part of our soil characterization. Graphite and Flame AA allow us to determine ppb and ppm concentrations of cations in dilute acid solutions, while the IC allows us to determine ppm levels of several anions simultaneously in aqueous solutions. Other key instruments used in our data analyses include X-ray diffraction units, thermal analyzers and evolved-gas analyzers.