The Martian methane cycle

Stevens, A. H.; Patel, M. R.; Ringrose, T. J.; Lewis, S. R. and Leese, M. R. (2012). The Martian methane cycle. In: Nordic-Hawai'i Astrobiology Summer School: "Water, Ice and the Origin of Life in the Universe", 2-15 Jul 2012, Reykjavik, Iceland.


Methane has been observed in the atmosphere of Mars by a number of different teams [1], although its presence is contentious and requires further confirmation. The detection has raised considerable interest since the presence of methane in a heavily oxidised environment could point to a biological source. However, there are other abiogenic processes such as volcanism [2], serpentinisation of minerals [3] in the crust or the dissociation of clathrate hydrates [4] that could be responsible for any methane that is observed.

Here we discuss the nature of these processes and present details of simulation experiments designed to investigate the properties of release by them. By simulating interactions between surface regolith, subsurface ices and gases in the martian atmosphere in environmental chambers under martian conditions, the rate, relative likelihood and signatures of any release processes can be measured.

Combining the results of these experiments with data from future missions such as the European ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which aims to constrain the abundance and spatial/temporal variation of methane, will provide a much greater understanding of the methane cycle on Mars.

[1] Atreya, S.K., et al., Planetary and Space Science, 59(2-3): p. 133-136 (2011)
[2] Pellenbarg, R.E. et al., J. Geophys. Res. 108: p. 133-136 (2003)
[3] Oze, C. and Sharma, M. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32(10) (2005)
[4] Chastain, B.K. and Chevrier, V. Planetary and Space Science. 55(10): p. 1246-1256 (2007)

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