Dust Storms in Hellas Planitia, Mars

Post by Mr Martin Voelker and Dr. Daniela Tirsch, Institute of Planetary Research, German Aerospace Center, Berlin.

In July 2012 the Context Camera (CTX) on board Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) observed an upcoming and well-defined dust storm in a giant impact basin in the southern hemisphere on Mars known as Hellas Planitia. Although this deep lowland is notable for its dust storms, this image shows a unique view of a nascent storm system; from its first gusts to its shredded front.

Image 1: Dust storm event in eastern Hellas Planitia. The white area at the left of the image is the east-west trending wrinkle ridge. Note the helical currents in its southern part and the flow front in the very north (CTX image D02_027836_ 1333_XN_46S272W). Image credit: NASA, JPL, Malin Space Science

Image 1: Dust storm event in eastern Hellas Planitia. The white area at the left of the image is the east-west trending wrinkle ridge. Note the helical currents in its southern part and the flow front in the very north (CTX image D02_027836_ 1333_XN_46S272W). Image credit: NASA, JPL, Malin Space Science

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Long-runout landslide transport in Valles Marineris, Mars

Post contributed by Jessica Watkins, Dept. of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, USA.

Long-runout (> 50 km) subaerial mass movement is rare on Earth but it is one of the most prominent geomorphic processes shaping Valles Marineris in equatorial Mars. It has occurred widely and nearly continuously within the canyon system over the past 3.5 billion years (Quantin et al., 2004).

Image 1: Long-runout landslide in Ius Chasma, Valles Marineris, with characteristic zoned morphology. Blue box indicates location of spectral map in Image 3. Image is Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) daytime infrared mosaic. Image credit: NASA/JPL/ASU

Image 1: Long-runout landslide in Ius Chasma, Valles Marineris, with characteristic zoned morphology. Blue box indicates location of spectral map in Image 3. Image is Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) daytime infrared mosaic.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/ASU

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Transient flow of water on Vesta suggested by gullies and lobate deposits.

Post contributed by Jennifer Scully, Dept. of Earth, Planetary & Space Sciences, University of California Los Angeles

Vesta is the second most massive asteroid in the asteroid belt, with a mean diameter of 526 km (e.g. Russell et al., 2012). High resolution images from the Dawn Mission have detected curvilinear and linera gully forms and lobate deposits in craters and on steep slopes on its surface (Scully et al., 2015).

Image 1: (a) Fonteia crater, which contains linear gullies. (b) Unmapped version and (c) mapped version of linear gullies. White arrows highlight an example linear gully in (b).

Image 1: (a) Fonteia crater, which contains linear gullies. (b) Unmapped version and (c) mapped version of linear gullies. White arrows highlight an example linear gully in (b).

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Diverted landslides in Valles Marineris

Post contributed by Dr Peter Grindrod, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of London

Layered deposits on Mars are a globally-pervasive record of the sedimentary history of the planet. These deposits not only preserve long sequences of Mars’ stratigraphic record, but also exhibit evidence for hydrous minerals and aqueous activity, and thus help to define the habitability through time. Layered deposits are therefore high priority exploration targets for current and future missions, including the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover, which currently sits at the base of an interior layered deposit (ILD) in Gale Crater.

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Image 1. A typical landslide in Valles Marineris, Mars. CTX DTM made at the UK NASA RPIF (Regional Planetary Image Facility) at University College London. Images B21_017688_1685_XN_11S067W and B22_018321_1685_XN_11S068W. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems.

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Gullies and ice on Mars.

Post by Dr Susan Conway, Open University, UK

Gullies on Mars were first discovered in 2000 (Malin and Edgett, 2000) in images taken by the Mars Orbiter Camera on board NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor platform. They are kilometre-scale features and have a striking resemblance to water-carved gullies on Earth (Image 1).

Image 1: Example of gully morphologies on Mars in HiRISE data. Image credits: NASA/JPL/UofA. (a) Gullies on the wall of a small impact crater within Kaiser crater, image number: PSP_003418_1335. (b) gullies within a polar pit, image number: PSP_003498_1090. (c) Gullies on the wall of Galap crater, near Sirenum Fossae, image number: PSP_003939_1420 (d) Gullies on the wall of Wirtz crater, a large impact crater to the east of Argyre basin, image number: PSP_002457_1310 (e) Gullies on the slip face of dunes in Russell Crater in Noachis Terra, image number: PSP_001440_1255 (f) Gullies on the wall of an impact crater to the west of Newton Crater in Terra Sirenum, image number: PSP_005930_1395.

Image 1: Example of gully morphologies on Mars in HiRISE data. Image credits: NASA/JPL/UofA. (a) Gullies on the wall of a small impact crater within Kaiser crater, image number: PSP_003418_1335. (b) gullies within a polar pit, image number: PSP_003498_1090. (c) Gullies on the wall of Galap crater, near Sirenum Fossae, image number: PSP_003939_1420 (d) Gullies on the wall of Wirtz crater, a large impact crater to the east of Argyre basin, image number: PSP_002457_1310 (e) Gullies on the slip face of dunes in Russell Crater in Noachis Terra, image number: PSP_001440_1255 (f) Gullies on the wall of an impact crater to the west of Newton Crater in Terra Sirenum, image number: PSP_005930_1395.

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Very recent debris flow activity on Mars

Post contributed by Dr Andreas Johnsson, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The question whether Martian gullies formed by fluvial processes or by dry mass wasting have been a source of heated debate ever since their discovery (Malin and Edgett, 2000). Intense research within the last decade however points to a fluvial origin for a majority of gully landforms on Mars.

Image 1. A) Overview of the pole-facing interior crater wall (PSP_006837_1345). B) Clearly defined paired levee deposits (white arrows). C) Multiple overlapping lobate deposits (white arrows). D) Gully fan dominated by debris flows (white arrows). E) Well defined medial deposit (debris plug) (white arrow).  Image credit: NASA/JPL/UofA for HiRISE.

Image 1. A) Overview of the pole-facing interior crater wall (PSP_006837_1345). B) Clearly defined paired levee deposits (white arrows). C) Multiple overlapping lobate deposits (white arrows). D) Gully fan dominated by debris flows (white arrows). E) Well defined medial deposit (debris plug) (white arrow). Image credit: NASA/JPL/UofA for HiRISE.

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Liquid Water and Water Ice on Gale Crater, Mars

Post by Dr. Alberto G. Fairén, Dept. of Astronomy, Cornell University, USA, and Centro de Astrobiología, Spain.

Gale crater, the site of the currently active Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity Rover mission, is a ~154-km-diameter impact crater formed during the Late Noachian/Early Hesperian at the dichotomy boundary on Mars (Cabrol et al., 1999; Anderson and Bell III, 2010; Wray, 2013). The northern floor and rim of Gale are ~1–2 km lower in elevation than its southern floor and rim, and the crater shows a layered central mound named Aeolis Mons, which is 100 km wide, extends over an area of 6000 km2, and is up to 5 km in height (Malin and Edgett, 2000).

Image 1: Details of the lobate features, arcuate ridges and terminal moraines in the central mound of Gale.

Image 1: Details of the lobate features, arcuate ridges and terminal moraines in the central mound of Gale.

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Experimental Delta Formation in Crater Lakes

Post by G. de Villiers, Faculty of Geoscience, Utrecht University.

Fan-shaped deposits have been identified on the surface of Mars (Image 1). These sediment bodies often occur within impact craters and, specifically in the cases of fan deltas, suggests that these craters were once lakes early in Martian history. Fan delta morphologies are indicative of upstream (e.g. flow discharge and sediment properties) and downstream (e.g. basin characteristics) parameters, from which the hydrological conditions at the time of formation can be inferred (e.g. Kleinhans et al. 2010).

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Image 1: Examples of fan delta deposits on Mars, formed in enclosed impact crater or rift basins. A) Single-scarped, branched prograding delta (PSP_006954); B) Single-scarped, smooth prograding delta (I10805012); and C) Multiple-scarped, stepped retrograding delta (V17040003). White line is approximately 5 km.

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Megaflood on Mars from a Breached Crater Lake

Post by Dr Neil Coleman, University of Pittsburgh.

A group of Martian craters formerly contained lakes, some of which overtopped and breached the crater rims to cause flooding and channel erosion.

Image 1:  View of Morella Crater and the complex of Elaver Vallis channels eroded by floodwaters released when the crater rim was breached.  The distal reaches of Elaver Vallis were obliterated by the southward expansion of Ganges Chasma, which is 5 km deep.  The chasma as seen today did not exist during the Elaver flood, otherwise high groundwater pressures would have been relieved by breakouts in the walls and floor of the chasma [graphic is a mosaic of THEMIS daytime infrared (IR) images].

Image 1: View of Morella Crater and the complex of Elaver Vallis channels eroded by floodwaters released when the crater rim was breached. The distal reaches of Elaver Vallis were obliterated by the southward expansion of Ganges Chasma, which is 5 km deep. The chasma as seen today did not exist during the Elaver flood, otherwise high groundwater pressures would have been relieved by breakouts in the walls and floor of the chasma [graphic is a mosaic of THEMIS daytime infrared (IR) images].

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An ancient glacial system in Valles Marineris, Mars

Post by O. Bourgeois, M. Gourronc, D. Mège and S. Pochat – Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique, Université de Nantes, France

The current climate on Mars does not allow for significant accumulations of surface ice at low latitudes. Therefore ice is only found at the two polar ice caps and in a number of ice-filled craters scattered at northern and southern latitudes (> 70°).

Image 1 :  Extent of Late Noachian – Early Hesperian glaciation and location of supraglacial landslides in Valles Marineris (Gourronc et al., 2014).

Image 1 : Extent of Late Noachian – Early Hesperian glaciation and location of supraglacial landslides in Valles Marineris (Gourronc et al., 2014).

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Is the Xanadu region on Titan an impact basin?

Post by Dr. Mirjam Langhans, GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, Germany.

The surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is subject of great geologic interest, particularly since the arrival of Cassini/Huygens mission in the Saturnian System. Titan’s largest distinct and highly reflective surface feature, named Xanadu, is located close to the equator. The image depicts Xanadu in full extension with a rich diversity of geologic landforms, such as fluvial valleys, mountain ridges and impact craters. Despite the high volume of image data in this region, the geologic history behind Xanadu remains enigmatic to this day.

Geomorphologic map of Xanadu. Data: Cassini SAR data, source: (http://pds-imaging.jpl.nasa.gov/portal/cassini_mission.html). background: Cassini-ISS, source: (http://pds-imaging.jpl.nasa.gov/portal/cassini_mission.html). Inner and outer boundary of the Xanadu Circular Feature (XCF) are highlighted at Western Xanadu (black lines, according to Brown et al. (2011)). Green dots: impact craters listed in Wood et al. (2010) and Neish & Lorenz (2012), red dots: potential impact craters. Fluvial channels are delineated in blue. Dark green: lineations seen in mountain ranges, from Radebaugh et al. (2011). Light green: lineations in mountain ranges (Langhans et al. 2013).

Geomorphologic map of Xanadu. Data: Cassini SAR data, source: (http://pds-imaging.jpl.nasa.gov/portal/cassini_mission.html). background: Cassini-ISS, source: (http://pds-imaging.jpl.nasa.gov/portal/cassini_mission.html). Inner and outer boundary of the Xanadu Circular Feature (XCF) are highlighted at Western Xanadu (black lines, according to Brown et al. (2011)). Green dots: impact craters listed in Wood et al. (2010) and Neish & Lorenz (2012), red dots: potential impact craters. Fluvial channels are delineated in blue. Dark green: lineations seen in mountain ranges, from Radebaugh et al. (2011). Light green: lineations in mountain ranges (Langhans et al. 2013).

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Ancient Lake Deposits on Mars

Post by Tim Goudge, Department of Geological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, RI

There is much morphologic evidence that there was flowing water on the surface of Mars early in its history. Such evidence includes fluvial channels and valleys, often termed valley networks, (e.g., Pieri, 1980; Irwin, 2005a; Fassett and Head, 2008a) as well as paleolake basins that are fed by these valley networks (e.g., Goldspiel and Squyres, 1991; Cabrol and Grin, 1999, 2001; Irwin et al., 2005b; Fassett and Head, 2005, 2008b).

Image 1. Exposed layered deposit of probable lacustrine origin within an open-basin lake (-27.7°N, 76.1°E). Inset image (indicated by red box in main image) shows detailed layering within the exposed deposit. Main image is from the Context Camera (CTX) instrument (image number B02_010338_1518_XI_28S282W; ~5 m/pixel), and inset image is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument (image number PSP_010338_1525; ~50 cm/pixel).

Image 1. Exposed layered deposit of probable lacustrine origin within an open-basin lake (-27.7°N, 76.1°E). Inset image (indicated by red box in main image) shows detailed layering within the exposed deposit. Main image is from the Context Camera (CTX) instrument (image number B02_010338_1518_XI_28S282W; ~5 m/pixel), and inset image is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument (image number PSP_010338_1525; ~50 cm/pixel).

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Slope Streaks on Mars

Post by Dr Norbert Schörghofer, University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

Slope streaks are a form of down-slope mass movement on the surface of Mars that frequently occurs on Mars today (Image 1 and 2). Slope streaks were first identified on high-resolution Viking Orbiter images, but their present-day activity was only discovered in Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) images.

Image 1. A portion of a Mars Orbiter Camera image taken on 1999-10-28.

Image 1. A portion of a Mars Orbiter Camera image taken on 1999-10-28.

Image 2: An Image of the same area taken on 2002-06-10. A large new slope streak formed, while numerous other streaks persisted. North is up and illumination is from the lower left (Schorghofer et al. 2007).

Image 2: An Image of the same area taken on 2002-06-10. A large new slope streak formed, while numerous other streaks persisted. North is up and illumination is from the lower left (Schorghofer et al. 2007).

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Paleolakes on Mars

Post by Dr. Gino Erkeling, Institut für Planetologie, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany

The hypothesis of ancient Martian standing bodies of water, which might have occupied the lowlands of the northern hemisphere and which might have existed in local- to regional-scale paleolakes once in Martian history, is one of the most important subjects of ongoing discussion in Mars research (e.g., Parker et al., 1989, 1993; Head et al., 1999; Cabrol and Grin, 1999, 2001; Clifford and Parker, 2001; Kreslavsky and Head, 2002; Carr and Head, 2003; Ghatan and Zimbelman, 2006; Di Achille and Hynek, 2010; Mouginot et al., 2012). The case for large standing bodies of liquid water, including lakes, seas and oceans, is attributed to a complex hydrologic cycle that may have once existed on Mars in the Noachian (>3.7 Ga) and perhaps also in the Hesperian (>3.1 Ga).

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Fluvial channels in Central Pit Craters

Post by Samantha Peel Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee, USA.

Central pit craters are a crater type that contain an approximately circular depressions in their floor or central peak (Image 1). These craters have been found on Mars, Ganymede, and Callisto (e.g., Barlow, 2010; Alzate and Barlow, 2011; Bray et al., 2012). On Mars, a subset of central pit craters has been found to contain valleys that terminate in central pits (Peel and Fassett, 2013). These “pit valleys” are believed to have formed as ancient rivers transported water and sediment to the central pits.

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Image 1: Mosaic of three MRO CTX images (B18_016770_1429_XI_37S201W, B19_017192_1443_XI_35S202W, B19_016981_1432_XN_36S201W) showing the interior of a well-preserved central pit crater with pit valleys. The crater is located at 36.30ºS, 158ºE.

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Gullies on the Moon formed by dry-granular flows

Posted by Dr P. Senthil Kumar, National Geophysical Research Institute, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, Hyderabad 500007, India.

Gullies are well-known geomorphic features on Earth where they are mainly formed by erosion due to flow of liquid water. They are also detected on Mars and the Moon and their origin on those bodies are under discussion (Malin and Edgett, 2000; Senthil Kumar et al., 2010). The gullies consist of alcoves (erosional features), channels (features indicating transportation) and fans or debris aprons (depositional structures). These features are clearly observed on the interior walls of impact craters on Mars and widely on the mountain slopes of Earth. Hence, geomorphologists use these features to examine the characteristics of liquid water flow either in the present or past geological records.

Image 1: (a) The Chandrayaan-1 terrain mapping camera image showing the ~7.2-km-diameter fresh crater (centred at 72º12'S, 133º12'E) emplaced in the peak-ring material of Schrödinger basin. The topographic profiles along A-A' and B-B' are shown in Figure 1d. A 6860-m-diameter circle fits perfectly to the crater rim from the western to the northern sides of the crater, while the crater rim recedes in other parts due to enhanced crater wall erosion. (b) The shadow-enhanced TMC image reveals the presence of arcuate ridge and the pond material on the crater floor. Note the pond is oriented toward the prominent landslide surface. (c) The TMC image showing the presence of concentric faults along the northwestern crater rim. (d) The topographic profiles along A-A' and B-B'. The interior wall that contains the landslides (B-B') is gentler and shallower than the interior wall with the gullies (A-A'). The ridge material is characterized by a higher topographic relief than the surrounding crater floor. The pond material has a flat surface that embays the ridge and other floor materials. See Senthil Kumar et al. (2013) for more details.

Image 1: (a) The Chandrayaan-1 terrain mapping camera image showing the ~7.2-km-diameter fresh crater (centred at 72º12’S, 133º12’E) emplaced in the peak-ring material of Schrödinger basin. The topographic profiles along A-A’ and B-B’ are shown in Figure 1d. A 6860-m-diameter circle fits perfectly to the crater rim from the western to the northern sides of the crater, while the crater rim recedes in other parts due to enhanced crater wall erosion. (b) The shadow-enhanced TMC image reveals the presence of arcuate ridge and the pond material on the crater floor. Note the pond is oriented toward the prominent landslide surface. (c) The TMC image showing the presence of concentric faults along the northwestern crater rim. (d) The topographic profiles along A-A’ and B-B’. The interior wall that contains the landslides (B-B’) is gentler and shallower than the interior wall with the gullies (A-A’). The ridge material is characterized by a higher topographic relief than the surrounding crater floor. The pond material has a flat surface that embays the ridge and other floor materials. See Senthil Kumar et al. (2013) for more details.

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Recent vents and channels on the Cerberus plains of Mars: lava or water?

Posted by Rebecca Thomas, Department of Physical Sciences, The Open University, UK.

Recent channelized flows from vents in the Cerberus plains of Mars demonstrate the difficulties of uniquely ascribing process to landforms on other planets.  The image below shows two fissures emanating from a wrinkle ridge. Both fissures appear to be sources of approximately contemporaneous channels running down onto the surrounding plains (Thomas, 2013). The channel in the west is constructive and differs from that in the east which is clearly shows several phases of incision (Image 1).

Image 1: a. Vents and channels in the Cerberus plains, Mars (156.9° E, 7.1° N); b. incised channel; c. constructed, leveed channel. (HiRISE ESP_016361_1870)

Image 1: a. Vents and channels in the Cerberus plains, Mars (156.9° E, 7.1° N); b. incised channel; c. constructed, leveed channel. (HiRISE ESP_016361_1870)

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Young gullies and their relationships to the dust-ice mantle on Mars

Posted by Jan Raack, Institut für Planetologie, WWU Münster, Germany

Image 1: Smooth appearing atmospherically derived dust-ice mantle on a south-west facing mountain slope. The flow direction of the gullies is from north to south. The gullies only erode the dust-ice mantle; the underlying bedrock was not substantially eroded. A modified dust-ice mantle  indicates as viscous flow features(black arrows) are visible at the termini of the aprons. Subscene of CTX-image P05_003170_1331_XI_46S050W

Image 1: Smooth appearing atmospherically derived dust-ice mantle on a south-west facing mountain slope. The flow direction of the gullies is from north to south. The gullies only erode the dust-ice mantle; the underlying bedrock was not substantially eroded. A modified dust-ice mantle indicates as viscous flow features(black arrows) are visible at the termini of the aprons. Subscene of CTX-image P05_003170_1331_XI_46S050W

Gullies are erosional-depositional landforms consisting of a source area (alcove), channel and apron. They occur primarily on mountain slopes and on crater walls on Mars. Morphologic attributes such as braided channels, point bars, and cut banks in many gullies suggest that fluvial processes were involved in their formation. The most plausible agent to form gullies is liquid H2O (groundwater seepage, melting of near surface ice and snow, or melting of a dust-ice layer on the surface). Alternative gully formation processes on Mars include the sublimation of CO2 or dry granular flows. Gullies have a wide range of ages and age determinations by crater size-frequency distribution measurements (a method used in planetary science to date surfaces via the size and frequency of impact craters) show that gullies on Mars were active in the past few million years. (more…)

Closed (hydrostatic) pingos on Earth and possibly Mars

Post by Drs. Richard Soare, Susan Conway and Peter Grindrod

Closed-system (hydrostatic) pingos (CSPs) are perenially ice-cored (non-glacial) mounds formed primarily by the near-surface injection of pore water. Their shape ranges from circular and sub-circular to elongate and their size varies from a few to hundreds of metres in diameter. Some of them reach tens of metres in height (see Figs. 1a,b).

Image 1 Plan view of a thermokarst lake/closed-system pingo assemblage that lies 6 km sw of Tuktoyaktuk on the coast of the Beaufort Sea in northern Canada (690,26’,34” N, 1330,01’,52” W). Ibyuk Pingo, at the right, is ~48 m high; Split Pingo, at the centre, is ~38 m high. Both pingos display irregular cavities at their summits. These are markers of mound degradation. Image A27917- 35-1993, courtesy of the National Air Photo Library, Ottawa, all rights reserved. Arrow indicates approximate viewing direction of part b. b. Ground view of Split Pingo (at the right) and Ibyuk Pingo (at the left) from the Beaufort Sea. Note the slope-side cracks that radiate from the summit cavities. They too are markers of mound degradation. Image, courtesy of R. Soare.

Image 1 Plan view of a thermokarst lake/closed-system pingo assemblage that lies 6 km sw of Tuktoyaktuk on the coast of the Beaufort Sea in northern Canada (690,26’,34” N, 1330,01’,52” W). Ibyuk Pingo, at the right, is ~48 m high; Split Pingo, at the centre, is ~38 m high. Both pingos display irregular cavities at their summits. These are markers of mound degradation. Image A27917- 35-1993, courtesy of the National Air Photo Library, Ottawa, all rights reserved. Arrow indicates approximate viewing direction of part b. b. Ground view of Split Pingo (at the right) and Ibyuk Pingo (at the left) from the Beaufort Sea. Note the slope-side cracks that radiate from the summit cavities. They too are markers of mound degradation. Image, courtesy of R. Soare.

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Unexpected variety among small inner satellites of Saturn

Post by Peter Thomas, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

 Small satellites (< 150 km mean radius) usually resemble potatoes. Their irregular shapes are formed by a history of impact cratering without the benefit of internally-driven processes of volcanism, tectonics, or atmospheric effects (Castillo-Rogez et al., 2012).  During its 9 years orbiting Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft has shown that the small satellites orbiting close to Saturn have a variety of shapes, most of which deviate from the expected familiar battered potato appearance.  These objects are likely dominated by water ice as determined from mean densities and spectroscopy (Thomas et al., 2010; Buratti et al. 2010).  Satellites within rings have equatorial ridges (Charnoz et al. 2007; Porco et al., 2007).  Others, such as Janus and Epimetheus, the “co-orbitals” are almost lunar-like in appearance, close to the expected potato variety.

Image 1: Best available view of Helene. N1687119756, UV3 filter, phase = 97°, sub-spacecraft point is 2.7°N, 124.8°W.  North is down in this presentation.  Taken June 18, 2011.

Image 1: Best available view of Helene. N1687119756, UV3 filter, phase = 97°, sub-spacecraft point is 2.7°N, 124.8°W. North is down in this presentation. Taken June 18, 2011.

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Cryo-volcanic “Mount Doom” on Titan

Post by Rosaly LopesRandy Kirk,  and Mary Bourke,

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, California, USA.
US Geological Survey, Astrogeology Science Center, Flagstaff, Arizona, USA.
Geography, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.

Data from the Cassini mission have revealed that Titan is a planetary body where the interior, the surface, and atmospheric processes interact to create and modify landforms (Loppes et al, 2010). In terms of recent surface processes, Titan is one of the most earth-like bodies in our solar system. Landforms include the largest area of aeolian dunefields in our solar system (e.g., Radebaugh et al., 2008), lakes (e.g., Stofan et al., 2006), fluvial channels (e.g., Langhans et al., 2012), mountains (e.g., Radebaugh et al., 2007), and features that have been interpreted as volcanic (e.g., Lopes et al., 2007).

Image 1: The  RADAR (SAR) images in black and white over a false-color mosaic of VIMS data.  The globe at upper left shows the location of the map on Titan (arrow). The white lines show the approximate boundaries of the perspective view in Image 2.

Image 1: The RADAR (SAR) images in black and white over a false-color mosaic of VIMS data. The globe at upper left shows the location of the map on Titan (arrow). The white lines show the approximate boundaries of the perspective view in Image 2.

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Dry ice gone wild: araneiform on Mars

Post by Dr. Candice Hansen and  Dr. Mary Bourke,

Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona, 85705

Geography, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Every year, Mars’ polar regions are covered by a seasonal layer of CO2 ice (dry ice).  We are just beginning to understand the important role this volatile plays as an active agent of geomorphic change on Mars. The HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been used to study sublimation activity in the spring for 3 Mars years.  C hannel features often organised in radial patterns were noted and known informally as “spiders”, more formally as “araneiform terrain” (Image 1).  They are tens to hundreds of m wide, with individual channels measuring several meters wide. Estimates of depth are in the order of ~ 2 m, decreasing with distance from the center of the araneform. Thin channels widen and deepen as they converge. Where they drape pre-existing topography, the channels are larger in the uphill direction suggesting they were eroded by pressurised fluid (Hansen et al, 2010).

Image 1: Subset of HiRISE Image   ESP_011420_0930 locatedf at  87.0°S / 127.27°E.  A variety of patterns of channels have been carved in the surface and are conformally-coated with seasonal ice.  At the time this image was taken, L s = 184.3 (southern spring), the sun had just started peeking above the horizon and the scene is covered with the seasonal ice cap, ~1m thick.  Araneiform channels in this image are 1-2 m deep and ~3-5 m wide.  The image is 1 km across.

Image 1: Subset of HiRISE Image ESP_011420_0930 locatedf at 87.0°S / 127.27°E. A variety of patterns of channels have been carved in the surface and are conformally-coated with seasonal ice. At the time this image was taken, L s = 184.3 (southern spring), the sun had just started peeking above the horizon and the scene is covered with the seasonal ice cap, ~1m thick. Araneiform channels in this image are 1-2 m deep and ~3-5 m wide. The image is 1 km across.

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Young volcanism on Mercury

Post by Carolyn Ernst, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, MD 20723, USA.

Prior to 2008, less than half of Mercury’s surface had been imaged at close range, during the flybys of Mariner 10 in the mid-1970s. The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft completed three flybys of the planet in 2008 and 2009 on its way to insertion into orbit about Mercury on 18 March 2010 and viewed most of the planet’s surface that had never before been seen by a spacecraft. These MESSENGER images have helped to confirm some Mariner-10-based hypotheses and have elicited new science questions to be investigated.

September

Image 1: Narrow-angle camera mosaic of Rachmaninoff basin, 290 km in diameter, as seen during MESSENGER’s third Mercury flyby on 29 September 2009. Orthographic projection, ~ 440 m/pixel, centered at ~28ºN, 58ºE. MESSENGER images 0162744128 and 0162744150, credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.

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Climbing and Falling Sand Dunes in Valles Marineris, Mars

Post by Matt Chojnacki, Devon Burr and Jeff Moersch, Earth and Planetary Sciences Department and Planetary Geosciences Institute, University of Tennessee Knoxville, USA

Aeolian transport of sand-sized particles on planetary surfaces is both enhanced and inhibited by the presence of topography.  Mountainous topography at all length scales significantly affects dune location, size, shape, and orientation [Pye and Tsoar, 1990].   The surface of Mars has both abundant sand dune populations and substantial topographic relief.  Perhaps the best example of the relationship between topography and relief is the ancient rift valleys of Valles Marineris, with over ~21,000 km2 of dune fields found within the ~10 km deep rift system [Chojnacki and Moersch, 2009].  This system of interconnected-chasms, provides natural sinks where wind blown sediment can accumulate.  Additionally, the substantial relief and the resulting atmospheric pressure gradient significantly influence the regional meteorology [Rafkin and Michaels, 2003].

Dune fields in Valles Marineris can be broadly divided into two classes: floor- and wall-related dune fields.  The “wall dunes” class dune fields are interpreted as climbing and falling dunes [Chojnacki et al., 2010].  On Earth, climbing dunes are formed when migrating dunes encounter and ascend a substantial slope or cliff (>10°), where there is no major wind flow blockage [Pye and Tsoar, 1990].  Falling dunes, found on the downwind side of large topographic highs, are formed by unidirectional down slope winds and gravity [Greeley and Iversen, 1985].

Climbing Dunes of Valles Marineris:

Image 1

Image 1: Oblique southward perspective views of Melas Chasma climbing dunes using a CTX Camera image (P16_007245_1648) over HRSC elevation (H0334). The white arrows indicate slip faces and are consistent with upslope transport. Vertical exaggeration is 2x.

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Water tracks on Earth and Mars

Post by Joe Levy, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, USA

  Water tracks are zones of enhanced soil moisture that route shallow groundwater downslope in permafrost regions. Water tracks form in the active layer (the seasonally thawed portion of the permafrost) where melt water derived from snow-melt, ground ice melt, and exotic processes like salt deliquescence, concentrates in broad depressions in the ice table (the part of the permafrost that remains frozen) and flows downhill. Water tracks darken and lengthen during the summer melt season, and freeze-dry in winter, rendering them nearly undetectable from late fall to early spring.

Image 1. Quickbird satellite image of a water track in the vicinity of Lake Hoare, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Near-surface groundwater flows downhill from the top of the image towards the ice-covered pond at the bottom. Portion of Quickbird image orthowv02_10dec222046120-p1bs-103001000825e900_u08ns4326.

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Mercury’s Mighty Valles

Post by Dr. Paul K. Byrne, Carnegie Institution of Washington, USA

 Channel-like landforms termed “valles” (sing. “vallis”) have been observed on the Moon, Mars, and Venus, and recent results from the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission show that the innermost planet hosts its own brand of valles, too. Resembling the broad outflow channels on Mars and Venus, five shallow, linear depressions form a channelized network at high latitudes in Mercury’s northern hemisphere. These valles are situated adjacent to expansive northern volcanic plains that cover some 6% of the planet’s surface, and likely conducted voluminous, low-viscosity lavas from these plains southward.

Image 1: This vallis has the steep sides, smooth floors, and erosional residuals characteristic of Mercury’s broad valles, and likely channeled lavas from left to right across the image. The image has a field of view of ca. 150 km. The 57°N parallel and 115°E meridian are shown, and Kofi basin is labeled. The image is a portion of MESSENGER’s Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) global monochrome basemap, which has a resolution of 250 meters per pixel.

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Geomorphic activity on asteroid Vesta

Post by Prof. Dr. Ralf Jaumann and Dr. Mary C. Bourke,

German Aerospace Center, Berlin, Germany. 

Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

The NASA Dawn spacecraft was launched in September 2007 to characterize the conditions and processes of the solar system’s earliest epoch by investigating in detail two of the largest protoplanets remaining intact since their formation. Ceres and Vesta reside in the extensive zone between Mars and Jupiter together with many other smaller bodies, called the asteroid belt. Each has followed a very different evolutionary path constrained by the diversity of processes that operated during the first few million years of solar system evolution. The Dawn mission entered orbit around Vesta on 16 July 2011 for a one-year exploration and left orbit on 5 September 2012 heading towards Ceres.

Image A. A composite digital terrain model, and high resolution albedo mosaic and imbedded color channels of three cratres on the surface of Vesta. The image is composed of many individual photographs taken between October and December 2011 by Dawn’s framing camera during the high-altitude mapping orbit, at about 680 kilometers above Vesta’s surface. The image is centered on ~ 13° north latitude and ~ 195° eastern longitude. South is to the top of the image. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

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Sturzstroms on Saturn’s Moon Iapetus.

Post by Kelsi Singer. Ph.D Candidate, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Washington University, USA.

A typical landslide runs out less than two times its drop height whereas a long-runout landslide can extend 20-30 times the height it dropped from. Long-runout landslides (sturzstroms) are found across the Solar System.  They have been observed primarily on Earth (Image 1) and Mars, but also on Venus, and Jupiter’s moons Io and Callisto.

Image 1: An example of a long-runout landslide on Earth is the Blackhawk landslide in the Lucerne Valley, California. This landslide travelled ~8 km. Image Source USGS

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Lava temperatures determine flow composition on Earth and Io.

Post by Robert Wright, and Mary C. Bourke,

Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, US.

Department of Geography, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.

Image 1: A Giant plume from Io’s Tvashtar volcano composed of a sequence of five images taken by NASA’s New Horizons probe on March 1st 2007, over the course of eight minutes from 23:50 UT. The plume is 330 km high, though only its uppermost half is visible in this image, as its source lies over the moon’s limb on its far side. Image source from NASA.

The temperature at which active lava is erupted correlates well with the composition of the lava.  Mafic lavas may be up to 200-330 degrees celsius hotter than felsic lavas. The range of temperatures observed on active lava surfaces can also be used to determine the style with which the lava is erupted (i.e. as aa or pahoehoe lava flows, as lava lakes, or as lava domes). This is possible because the ease with which the crust is fractured depends on the volumetric flux of lava and its rheology (Image 2). As a result, lava bodies that fracture their cool crusts more easily (like aa flows) have hotter temperature distributions than those that fracture their upper surfaces less readily (such as viscous lava domes). (more…)

Surface Monitoring of the “Greeley Dune Field” in Endeavour Crater, Meridiani Planum, Mars.

Post by Dr Matthew Chojnacki

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN

The 2011 arrival of the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity at the western rim of Endeavour crater (Cape York) provided an excellent opportunity to look for aeolian dune activity over a multi-season time span (Figs. 1 & 2) and compare them to the decade-long orbital observations documented at that site (Chojnacki et al., 2011). Here are some of the first images from a dedicated Pancam campaign to monitor these dunes and to document any aeolian surface changes (also see Chojnacki et al., 2012).

Image 1

Image 1. HiRISE (McEwen et al. 2007) image PSP_005779_1775 of Endeavour crater’s western dune field. Inset shows a CTX (Malin et al. 2007) mosaic with the dune field’s location relative to Cape York and the Opportunity rover.

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Glass-rich sand dunes and plains suggest Ice-magma interactions on Mars

Post by Briony Horgan,

Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, USA

Several large, overlapping basins dominate the northern hemisphere of Mars, and are collectively termed the northern lowlands. This ancient basin has been infilled by sediments and hosts some of the darkest terrains on the planet. A new spectral investigation of these dark terrains has revealed that they are almost entirely composed of iron-bearing glass. This is the first detection of glass on Mars, as most other martian surfaces exhibit a typical basaltic composition with abundant olivine and pyroxene. In total, glass-rich materials cover nearly ten million square kilometers in the northern lowlands (Horgan and Bell, 2012).

Image 1

Image 1 Caption: The prime meridian of Mars from Hubble. The large dark region in the northern hemisphere (Acidalia Planitia) is approximately 5 million square kilometers in area. The north polar cap and encircling north polar sand sea can also be seen at the top of the image (NASA/Lee/Bell/Wolff)

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Surface dissolution on Titan and Earth: Ontario Lacus and the Etosha Pan (Namibia) .

Post by Thomas Cornet, Olivier Bourgeois, Stephane Le Mouelic et al.,

Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique de Nantes, , Université de Nantes, UMR 6112, CNRS, Nantes, France.

Titan, Saturn’s major moon, possesses hydrocarbon lakes and seas in the polar regions [Stofan et al., 2007, Hayes et al., 2008]. Among these, Ontario Lacus (72°S, 180°E, Image 1) is the largest in the south (235 km-long, 75 km-wide). So far it is interpreted as a liquid-covered lake in Titan’s southern hemisphere because of its dark appearance in Cassini image data [Barnes et al., 2009; Turtle et al., 2009; Hayes et al., 2010; Wall et al. 2010], the identification of liquid ethane in its interior [Brown et al., 2008] and the smoothness of its surface [Wye et al., 2009].

Image 1

Image 1: Ontario Lacus (Titan) and the Etosha Pan (Namibia) as surface dissolution morphologies under arid climates. Credits: Envisat ASAR, data provided by the European Space Agency ©ESA 2009, ESA ®; Cassini RADAR, data provided by JPL/NASA. Link to high resolution image

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The effect of gravity on granular flows

Post by Dr. Maarten G. Kleinhans River and delta morphodynamics research group, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands.

 

Image 1

Image 1: Subscene of HRSC image presented in Kleinhans et al. (2010) showing an oblique view on a classic bed load-dominated Gilbert delta with a subaqueous lee slope at an angle of about 30°. Delta is about 5 km wide.

Granular materials avalanche when a static angle of repose is exceeded and freeze at a dynamic angle of repose. Such avalanches occur subaerially on steep hillslopes (Image 2), aeolian dunes and subaqueously at the lee side of deltas (Image 1). The angle varies from 25° for smooth spherical particles to 45° for rough angular particles. Noncohesive granular materials are found in many contexts, from kitchen to industry and nature. The angle of repose is an empirical friction parameter that is essential in models of numerous phenomena involving granular material, most of them actually occur at slopes much lower than the angle of repose. The angle of repose is therefore relevant for many geomorphological phenomena. (more…)

Latitudinal-dependent Surface Runoff on Titan

Post by Dr Mirjam Langhans, Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica – INAF, Roma, Italy

Saturn‘s largest moon Titan is one of only a few bodies in the Solar System with an active volatile cycle. Besides Earth, only ancient Mars is supposed to have hosted a water cycle. Titan‘s volatile cycle is based on methane (CH4), occurring in liquid and gaseous state given Titan‘s environmental conditions (e.g. Flasar 1983, Lorenz & Lunine 2005). Despite the different volatiles involved, similar atmospheric processes occur on Titan and Earth, such as the formation of clouds and precipitation .

Following the action of the methane cycle, surface runoff and the incision of linear valleys take place. As a result, fluvial landscapes evolved on Titan, analog to those on Earth (e.g. Tomasko et al. 2005; Perron et al. 2006, Lorenz et al. 2008, Langhans et al. 2012).

Image 1

Image 1: Cassini-Radar-SAR image shows a dendritic valley network at high northern latitudes of Titan, ending in Kraken Mare, captured by radar-SAR (Radar-SAR T28, April 10, 2007). The image is centered at 280°W, 78°N.

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Moraines Left by Carbon Dioxide Glaciers on Mars

Post by Dr. Mikhail Kreslavsky1 and Prof. James Head2

1Assistant Research Planetary Scientist, UC Santa Cruz, USA. 2Planetary geosciences group, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

On Earth, cold-based glaciers (glaciers deforming internally, without basal melting and basal sliding) are found in the coldest environments (e.g., Antarctica, Marchant et al., 1993). Unlike the majority of glaciers, cold-based glaciers do not scour their substrate and leave pre-glacier topography unaffected. When cold-based glaciers advance and then dynamically stabilize (the ice flow is balanced by frontal ice ablation); debris carried forward by the glacier drops out at the glacial fronts as sublimation of the ice occurs; the dropped material produces so-called drop moraines.

In three locations at high northern latitudes of Mars, overlapping small ridges of arcuate planforms associated with slopes were interpreted as drop moraines left by extinct cold-based glaciers (Garvin et al., 2006; Kreslavsky and Head, 2011). Image 1 shows one of these locations, where a presumable glacier was formed at south-eastern part of an impact crater rim. The shapes of the extinct glacial lobes around the central peak of the crater suggest a few hundred meters thickness of the glacier.

Image 1

Image 1: Unnamed impact crater in the Northern Lowlands on Mars at 70.3oN, 266.5oE with loop-shaped ridges interpreted as drop moraines created by carbon dioxide glaciers. Image captured by Context Camera onboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, image number T01_000876_2505 Illumination is from lower left.

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Weathering profiles on Earth and Mars

Post by Anne Gaudin, University Nantes, CNRS, Laboratoire LPGN, France

On Earth, weathering profiles that have developed in ultramafic rocks under tropical climate show a mineralogical transition between a Fe, Mg-rich smectite zone and an Al-rich kaolinite-bearing zone (e.g. Colin et al., 1990; Gaudin et al., 2005; Yongue-Fouateu et al., 2009). This evolution is due to an intense leaching of Mg2+ cations during the weathering process. The Murrin Murrin (MM) site is an example of such a profile located in the Archean Eastern Yilgarn Craton, in Western Australia. The MM profile is developed in serpentinized peridotite massifs over a 40 m thick sequence (Image 1) and shows three zones: serpentinized peridotites at the bottom, immediately overlain by Fe/Mg-bearing smectites and then Al-bearing phyllosilicates (kaolinite) mixed with iron hydroxides.

Image 1

Image 1: Weathering profile at the Murrin Murrin site which is currently mined for nickel, located in Western Australia (121º53’41’’E, 28º44’51’’S) (Gaudin et al., 2011).

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Evaporites on Titan

Post by Jason W. Barnes, Assistant Professor of Physics, University of Idaho

Evaporites form on planetary surfaces when dissolved chemical solids precipitate out of saturated solution as their liquid solvent evaporates. Until recently theywere known to exist on only two planets: Earth and Mars. On Earth there are a variety of evaporite constituents including carbonates (CaCO3), sulfates (CaSO4), and halides (NaCl), progressing in order of increasing solubility.  NASA’s rover Opportunity discovered evaporitic deposits on Mars that are primarily composed of sulfates — different from Earth’s due to a highly acidic formation environment.

A third planetary instance of evaporite has now been discovered in an exotic location:  Saturn’s moon Titan.  Being so far from the Sun, Titan has a low surface temperature of 90°K (-183°C), just warmer than liquid nitrogen.  Hence all of Titan’s water is permanently frozen.  However methane on Titan plays the same role that water does on Earth and Mars. Titan has methane clouds, methane rain, methane rivers, and methane lakes and seas (Image of the Month, March 2010).

Therefore the evaporites on Titan have an unusual nature relative to those on rocky planets.  Instead of water being the solvent, on Titan the solvent is methane.  And instead of salts being the solute, on Titan organic molecules derived from ultraviolet photolysis of methane dissolve in rain, surface, and ground liquid.  Those organics precipitate out of lakes when the liquid methane solute evaporates, becoming evaporite.

Image 1

Image 1: Cassini VIMS/RADAR hybrid image of filled and dry lakes south of Titan’s methane sea Ligeia Mare. The brightness of the image is determined by synthetic aperture radar which indicates roughness, and the colors by Cassini’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer indicate composition. Some of the small lakes in the image are filled (cyan arrows). Other lakes show lacustrine morphology, but no evidence for liquids. Some of those dry lakes have the same composition as the surrounding terrain, but others show evaporites in bright orange.

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The periglacial landscape of Utopia Planitia, Mars

Post by Antoine Séjourné, Univ. Paris-Sud XI, CNRS, Laboratoire IDES, France

On Earth, periglacial regions underlined by continuous and ice-rich permafrost are found in areas of Northern Canada and Siberia These areas are very sensitive to abrupt climate-changes (Murton, 2001). The ice-rich permafrost has a unique assemblage of landforms, some of which are signatures of climate change (Image 1).

On Earth one example are the thermokarst lakes that have resulted from extensive thawing of permafrost following global warming during the Holocene (Czudek and Demek, 1970).  Freeze-thaw cycles of the permafrost produce ice-wedge polygons (Washburn, 1973). Localized melting of ice-wedges at the junction of the polygons induces the formation of small ponds of surface water (Washburn, 1973).

Image 1

Image 1: Assemblage of periglacial landforms in Canada (aerial photo 2009 A. Séjourné)

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Inflated Lava Flows on Earth and Mars

Post by Dr. W. Brent Garry1, Dr. Jacob E. Bleacher2, Dr. James R. Zimbelman3, and Dr. Larry S. Crumpler4

  1. Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ, 85719, USA
  2. Planetary Geodynamics Laboratory, Code 698, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, 20771, USA
  3. Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC, 20013, USA
  4. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Albuquerque, NM, 87104, USA

In volcanology, we are traditionally taught about basaltic lava flows advancing as toes of pāhoehoe or as channeled ‘a‘ā flows.  However, under the right emplacement conditions, some basaltic sheet flows will inflate (thicken) from only a few centimeters or meters to almost 20 meters in height.  This process occurs when lateral advancement of the flow is inhibited and liquid lava is injected underneath the solid crust of stalled sections of the flow field, causing the crust to uplift over an expanding liquid core.  The study of inflated lava flows on Earth reveals distinctive morphologic features related to this process including tumuli, inflated sheet lobes (Image 1), squeeze ups, and inflation-rise pits [1,2].  The McCartys lava flow (Image 2) is a 48-km-long, basaltic lava flow in El Malpais National Monument, near Grants, New Mexico that exhibits many of the complex morphologic features related to the process of lava flow inflation.  By studying the morphologic features that are characteristic of inflated lava flows on Earth, we can begin to identify this style of lava flow on other planetary bodies, including the Moon and Mars [3,4,5].

Image 1

Image 1. Geologist Dr. Jake Bleacher stands on the edge of a 12 meter high inflated sheet lobe in the McCartys lava flow, New Mexico. This inflated lobe continues in the foreground and extends in the distance along the left side of the photograph. Cracks, up to 8 meters deep, have formed along the margin of the lobe as the brittle crust had to accommodate for the inflation. The lower elevation unit seen in the central part of this photograph is formed from breakouts along the margin of this inflated sheet lobe and has a hummocky and swale surface texture. Photograph by W. Brent Garry. Full Size Image.

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Lunar Sinuous Rille

Post by Scott MestPlanetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA.

Lunar sinuous rilles (German for ‘groove’) consist of long, narrow depressions in the lunar surface that meander in a curved path across the surface and morphologically resemble terrestrial fluvial channels (Image 1). Sinuous rilles are generally up to several kilometers wide and hundreds of kilometers in length. On the Moon, sinuous rilles are found within volcanic terrains such as the extensive lunar mare. Their morphology and association with volcanic deposits suggests that they are the remains of lava channels or collapsed lava tubes.

Image 1

Image 1: Part of LROC image M115429448L (resolution is 0.970 m/pixel) showing a close-up of a sinuous rille (arrows) that cuts through dark plains (p) and adjacent hilly (h) materials on the floor of Schrödinger.

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Tufa mounds on Earth and Mars

Post by Dr. Rogelio Linares1 and Dr. Alexis Rodríguez2,3

1Department of Geology- GATA, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain . 2 Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA. 3State key Laboratory of Information Engineering on Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing, Wuhan University, China.

Tufa or travertine deposition at spring discharges often produce mounded landforms. They are one of the least understood calcareous landforms on Earth. Most documented mounds correspond to thermogene travertine. build-up associated with geothermal springs (where the carbon dioxide comes from thermally generated sources). See May 2009  image of the month. In contrast, work on meteogene mounds (where the carrier carbon dioxide originates in the soil and epigean atmosphere) are quite scarce (Linares et al, 2010).

Image 1

Image 1 (A) Shaded relief view of the Tremp Basin. (B) Geologic map of the study region in Isona area. (C) Electrical resistivity cross-sectional view of the central part of a tufa mound (inset in panel B). Note the cistern-like geometry of the pool facies and the overhanging upflow side of the rimstone. Number 1-2 respectively correspond to Rimstone and Rimstone with crescentic geometry.

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Fluvial flow triggered by impact events on Mars

Post by Andrea Jones, Lunar and Planetary Institute/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

 In memory of our dear friend and colleague Dr. Elisabetta (Betty) Pierazzo

Hale crater is a 125×150 km impact crater located near the intersection of Uzboi Vallis and the northern rim of Argyre basin on Mars, at 35.7ºS, 323.6ºE. Hale is an unusual crater on Mars because it is modified by fluvial channels. The channels originate from the outer edges of Hale’s ejecta and extend as far as 460 km from the crater rim (Image 1). They are upto a few kilometers wide, exhibit a braided planform (Image 2), and had sufficient stream power to incise and transport the crater ejecta. Most of the channels are found to the south-southwest of Hale crater, on the northern slope of Argyre basin (Image 3).

Image 1

Image 1: Channels in the southeastern ejecta of Hale crater, Mars in a THEMIS daytime-infrared mosaic. The channels were likely carved with water mobilized by the Hale-forming impact event. White box is location of Image 2. North is up in all images.

Image 2

Image 2: Detailed view of fluvial channel flowing through crater ejecta. CTX image
Location is shown in Image 1.

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Fracture fills and alteration on Mars

Post by Dr. James Wray, Cornell University

Recent missions to Mars have pursued a theme of “following the water,” with orbital and surface observations revealing locations where groundwater processes have affected rocks exposed at the modern surface.  Rock fractures or joints can act as conduits for subsurface fluids, which may precipitate fracture-filling minerals or alter pre-existing rocks along the fracture walls.  Both outcomes are evident in orbital images of sulfate-bearing layered rocks in Candor Chasma, part of the vast Valles Marineris canyon system near the Martian equator.  Joints in these layered rocks are surrounded by bright “halos” attributed to chemical bleaching by paleo-fluids, as observed in sedimentary rocks on Earth (Image 1).  Some joints in Candor Chasma also exhibit positive relief  (Okubo and McEwen, 2007), suggesting that fluids cemented the fracture walls and increased their resistance to subsequent erosion.  These ridged fractures would therefore represent another example of inverted topography on Mars.

Image 1

Image 1: Rocks bleached by fracture fluids on Mars and Earth. (a) Portion of HiRISE image TRA_000836_1740 in Candor Chasma, from Okubo and McEwen (2007). (b) Jurassic Entrada Sandstone, Salt Wash graben, southeast Utah (credit C. Okubo).

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Deformation of Sedimentary Rocks in Valles Marineris, Mars

Post by Dr. Joannah Metz, Shell Oil Company

 A large canyon system (up to 8 km deep) called Valles Marineris is located near the equator on Mars.  The relative timing between the formation of the Valles Marineris canyon system and various light-toned stratified deposits observed within the different chasmata remains an outstanding question for the geologic history of Mars (Malin and Edgett 2000; Okubo et al. 2008) .  Some of these stratified deposits have been deformed and understanding the mechanism(s) responsible for this deformation, both within and between chasmata, could provide insight into the relative timing of events within the Valles Marineris system (Metz et al. 2010).

Image 1

Image 1: Example of detached slabs from Melas Chasma. Subscene of CTX image P05_002828_1711

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Dry lake beds on Mars

Post by M. R. El Maarry, MaxPlanck Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, KatlenburgLindau, Germany

Polygons are some of the most common features at high latitudes on Mars and have been observed by both lander and orbiting spacecraft. They range in size from 2 m all the way up to 10 km and different formation mechanisms have been proposed that include thermal contraction, desiccation, volcanic, and tectonic processes (Buczkowski and McGill, 2002; Levy et al., 2009; Mangold, 2005; Marchant and Head, 2007; McGill and Hills, 1992; Yoshikawa, 2003).

Crater floor polygons have diameters ranging from 15 to 350 m (Image 1). Although, morphologically they resemble both terrestrial thermal contraction polygons and desiccation cracks, their size distribution is significantly larger than thermal contraction polygons that are ubiquitous in the Martian high latitudes.

Image 1

Image 1. Typical crater floor polygons. [A] CTX (a 6 meter/pixel camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, P16_007372_2474).of a 14 km‐sized impact crater (location: 67.2°N, 47.8°E). [B] Close-up from the same image. Two distinct size groups can be seen: A large 70-350 m sized polygons with an average polygon diameter of 120 m and mainly orthogonal trough intersection, and a smaller group, not always present, ranging in size from 5 to 20 m. [C] High resolution HiRISE (a telescopic camera with an impressive 25 cm/pixel resolution onboard the same spacecraft as the CTX, PSP_007372_2247) sub-image for the same crater of a 100 m‐wide polygon with a 6-8 m-wide, frost‐filled troughs surrounding it. Secondary troughs within the larger features form polygons with an average diameter of 10 m. These embedded features are probably periglacial thermal contraction polygons.

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‘Bullseye’ dunes on Mars

Post by Dr. Lori Fenton, Carl Sagan Center SETI Institute, 189 Bernardo Ave., Suite 100, CA 94043

 Fields of dunes and sand sheets are common on Mars. The largest type of dune is made of dark sand, which is thought to be similar in composition to the mafic sands often found near volcanoes on Earth (such as the “black beaches” of Hawaii). As on Earth, aeolian dune fields accumulate where sand is deposited by the wind, typically in low-lying areas such as basins, canyons, and craters.

Image 1: Sub set of Context camera image B11_013963_1120 showing unusual-shaped intra-crater dunefield. The inset on the upper right shows the context of the image on colorized MOLA topography, showing the unnamed crater that contains the dune field. Note the small bright dust devil crossing the dark sand (red arrow). Many dust devil tracks cross the dune fields in the southern high latitudes, removing dust that has settled out of the atmosphere.

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Rock breakdown on Earth and Mars: Linking the visible signs to the processes responsible

Post by Professor Heather Viles, School of Geography, University of Oxford, UK.

Observations in arid and hyper-arid environments on Earth show a range of processes, often acting together or in sequence, which cause rock breakdown.  These processes cut across the conventional categorisation into weathering and erosion and illustrate the synergistic associations of chemical, biological and physical weathering and aeolian abrasion.  Whilst there is no exact correlation between the processes at work and the features formed, because of geomorphological equifinality and complexity, nevertheless the appearance of breakdown features is a visual signature of the processes at work.

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Image 1: Boulders, cobbles and gravel strewn on the desert surface. a) Mars. b) Namib Desert

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Ancient sedimentary rocks in the Mawrth Vallis region, Mars

Post by Joe Michalski, Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona, USA

On Earth, the most ancient sedimentary rock record has been largely obliterated by plate tectonics and erosion. Those that remain are from the early history of the Earth and are severely deformed and mineralogically altered. Evidence for the earliest life on Earth found within these strata is often controversial because the rocks are so severely changed from their original state.

Fig1

Image 1: Rugged, eroded terrain in the northwest portion of the image (north is up), and an eroded butte in the southeast contain rocks layered at the scale of decimeters to meters. Reddish-brown colors correspond to surfaces that are rich in nontronite – an Fe-rich smectite clay mineral. The bluish areas surrounding the butte in the central part of the image correspond to surfaces that are rich in hydrated silica and aluminous clay minerals (such as montmorillonite and kaolinite). In the south-central and eastern parts of the image, relatively flat terrain bears massive fractures at multiple scales. One set of fractures is found at the scale of 100s of meters and one at the scale of several meters. This type of geomorphology if found in association with many layered deposits on Mars, but it is particularly well developed here. Most likely, the fractures form in response to volume decrease associated with dehydration of expandable (smectite) clay minerals. [HiRISE image ESP_011383_2030] http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu/ESP_011383_2030

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Pseudocraters on Earth and Mars

Post by Dr. Jim Zimbelman , Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA.  

November_10

Image 1. View of pseudocrater at Lake Myvatn, Iceland (JRZ, 8/25/10).

Pseudocraters are distinctive landforms generated when a lava flow moves across ground containing either water or ice; the heat from the lava causes the water or ice to flash to steam, generating localized explosions through the lava.  In the Eifel area of Germany, such explosion craters are often (but not always) later filled with water, and they are called maars.  Important aspects of their formation, which distinguishes them from cinder cones and other monogenetic volcanic vents, is the lack of a source for erupting lava beneath the lava flow or resulting crater; the explosive action is strictly the result of the sudden generation of steam resulting from the heat of the overlying lava flow.  Pseudocraters are typically much broader and shallower than cinder cones, and they may excavate through the entire thickness of the overlying lava flow, ejecting some materials from the rock beneath the flow.  A classic locality for pseudocraters is the Lake Myvatn area of northern Iceland, where a 2000-year-old lava flow moved across wet or icy ground, generating numerous rootless explosion craters that were subsequently surrounded by the shallow waters of Lake Myvatn (Images 1 and 2). (more…)

Hematite-rich regions on Mars

Post by Cathy Weitz and Melissa Lane Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Fine-grained red hematite is a common mineral on the surface of Mars and explains much of the reddish color for martian soils and rocks. However, hematite can also be gray in color if it is coarser grained. Gray, crystalline hematite has been identified by the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) at several sites on Mars , including: Meridiani Planum, Aram Chaos, Valles Marineris, Aureum Chaos, and Iani Chaos (Image 1) [Christensen et al., 2000; 2001; Glotch and Christensen, 2005; Glotch and Rogers, 2007; Noe Dobrea et al., 2007; Weitz et al., 2007]. At Meridiani, Aram Chaos, Iani Chaos, and Aureum Chaos the hematite units are confined to a specific layer or fairly continuous unit [e.g., Christensen et al., 2001, Glotch and Christensen, 2005]. Whereas,  in Valles Marineris the gray hematite is more patchy in distribution and scattered in separate troughs [Weitz et al., 2007; Le Deit et al., 2008].

August 2010

Image 1: Three locations where TES has detected gray hematite. The colors represent non-absolute estimated abundances, with red indicating highest abundances and blues lower amounts. (a) Central Valles Marineris. (b) Aram Chaos. (c) Meridiani Planum, where the location of the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity landing site is shown by a black cross.

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