Sedimentary basins on Mars, they contain a lot more sediments than we thought!

Post contributed by Dr. Francesco Salese, Italian Space Agency

The nature of the early Martian climate is one of the major unanswered questions of planetary science. To date the geologic evidence that Mars once had large amounts of surface liquid water is conclusive, but geomorphic constraints on the duration for which that water flowed are much weaker. In addition, much of the geochemical evidence points towards surface conditions that were not warm and wet for long time periods. The evidence points towards a hydrological cycle that was intermittent and not permanently active 3.8 billion years ago. However, in a recently published article myself and colleagues report that flowing water and aqueous environments formed thick, widespread sedimentary plains 3.8 billion years ago in the northern rim of the Hellas basin on Mars.


Image 1: 3D view of the northern Hellas plains, including hills, plains, erosional windows, and impact craters with their interpreted lithology. Mosaic of CTX images draped on MOLA topography.


Seismo-tectonic geomorphology of the Moon: Lobate scarps and boulder falls

Post contributed by P. Senthil Kumar, CSIR-National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, India

Geomorphology of terrestrial planets provides important insights into how various exogenous (e.g., meteorite impact, wind activity, glaciation) and interior geological processes (e.g., tectonics, volcanism) interact with the planetary surface. The tectonic features (faults, folds and fractures) shed light on the past and on-going seismo-tectonic processes operating on a planetary body. On Earth, seismometer networks are used in the direct instrumental observations of earthquake locations and their sizes for many decades. For other planets, seismic observations are rare. On the Moon, Apollo seismometers recorded moonquakes only during a brief period of 1969-1976. Annually, about 2000 deep moonquakes originating at 800-900 km depth, tens of shallow moonquakes at 0-100 km depth and around 200 meteoroid impacts were observed (Nakamura et al., 1979; Nakamura, 1980). While the deep moonquakes are produced by tidal forces, the sources of shallow moonquakes are thought to be of tectonic in origin. However, crustal tectonic structures responsible for shallow moonquakes are poorly understood.


Figure 1: (upper panel) LROC NAC images showing the en echelon pattern of a lobate scarp, located near the southern basin wall of Schrodinger basin. Hundreds of boulder falls and their trails are found on the basin wall about 5-7 km south of the lobate scarp. The boulders are shown as points (open circles filled with yellow) and are not to the scale. Note the largest number of boulder falls is seen between 129° and 130° longitudes. (lower panel) LROC NAC (M139078014RE) image showing the boulder trails of variable lengths and widths containing some prominent boulders at the terminal ends of the trails. A 23 m diameter boulder (labelled), the largest in this scene, produces a trail (also labelled) slightly wider than the boulder indicating a possible size reduction during its transport from the source region to its current location. Most boulder trails criss-cross each other.


Everything you wanted to know about martian scoria cones, but were afraid to ask…

Post contributed by Dr. Petr Brož, Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Science

Volcanism is an important process which shapes the surfaces of all terrestrial planets, and is still active on Earth, Jupiter’s moon Io, and perhaps on Venus. On Earth, volcanoes with wide variety of shapes and sizes exist; however, the size of volcanoes is anti-correlated with their frequency, i.e. small volcanoes are much more numerous than large ones. The most common terrestrial volcanoes are represented by kilometre-sized scoria cones (Figure 1a). These are conical edifices of pyroclastic material originating from explosive volcanic activity. Degassing of ascending magma causes magma fragmentation on eruption piling up the pyroclasts around the vent as a cone. Interestingly, scoria cones as known from Earth, have not been observed commonly on any other terrestrial body in the solar system despite the fact that magma degassing, and hence magma fragmentation, has to occur on these bodies as well.


Figure 1: Example of a terrestrial scoria cone (panel a, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, photographed by the National Park Service) and its putative martian analogue (panel b, detail of CTX image P22_009554_1858_XN_05N122W).


The book of landforms

Post contributed by Henrik Hargitai, NASA Ames and ELTE, Hungary

Everyone has a story. The narrative of who we are is created by us, our actions and interactions, sometimes just drifting with the events we live through. Landscapes like the one shown in Image 1, tell a geologic story. We translate it to human language and categories. Landscapes are the interface between a planetary body, its atmosphere and the cosmic environment. They change, age, and renew. A flood from a distant source, an impact, settling dust, all imprint onto it. Its history is recorded in its materials and its relief. With age, it depicts an ever more complicated story until resurfacing destroys its history. It’s increasingly popular to explain geology by processes. In real life, however, processes are not always clear cut and as we enter the age of multidisciplinary studies, many of us accept people who are different, we also recognize that landforms are shaped by a multitude of processes, they are not black or white, but all shades of… any color. Is a channel volcanic or fluvial? Well, maybe it’s both, and tectonic, too, with a pinch of ice-rich material that is of course sublimating. Even the types of question we can think of evolve, and this is happening in science, humanities and politics in parallel. Lowell’s Mars? Flat plains and marshes. Perhaps he didn’t even have enough creativity? Nature ‘s creativity always surpasses our own.


Image 1: The terminus of an inferred lava flow in one of the Marte Vallis outflow channels at 17.94 N, 185.51 E (Keszthelyi et al. 2008) (CTX image P03_002027_1979, credit NASA/JPL/MSSS)


Kārūn Valles and its braided alluvial fan

Post contributed by Solmaz Adeli, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, Germany


Image 1: Kārūn Valles located on the rim of the Ariadnes Colles basin. The visible channel head and deep grooves are shown (detail of CTX image D10_031182_1435). (b) The Kārūn Valles alluvial fan. Note the elongated depositional bars and their wide distribution. (c) A zoom on one of the braided bars. The flow direction is indicated by dashed arrows (detail of HiRISE image ESP_043261_1440).

The Amazonian period on Mars, meaning roughly the last 3 Ga, is globally believed to have been cold and hyperarid [e.g., Marchant and Head, 2007]. Recent geomorphological observations, however, have revealed the presence of well-preserved Amazonian-aged fluvial valleys in both the north and south mid-latitude regions of Mars [Howard and Moore, 2011; Hobley et al., 2014; Salese et al., 2016; Wilson et al., 2016]. These features point to one or several climate change phase(s) during Amazonian which could have sustained liquid water at the martian surface. These climate changes could have been triggered by obliquity oscillations [Laskar et al., 2004] causing the transportation of ice from polar regions and its re-deposition at lower latitudes. Episodic melting events during Amazonian, subsequently, formed valleys and other fluvial features, in the mid-latitude regions.


Large aeolian ripples on Mars

Post contributed by Dr. Ryan C. Ewing, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Texas A&M University

Ripples cover the surfaces of sand dunes on Earth and Mars. On Earth, ripples formed in typical aeolian sand (e.g., 0.1 and 0.3 mm) range in wavelength between 10 and 15 cm and display a highly straight, two-dimensional crestline geometry. Ripples are thought to develop through a process dominated by the ballistic impacts of saltating sand grains in which wavelength selection occurs through the interplay of grain size, wind speed, the saltation trajectories of the sand grains, and ripple topography.


Figure 1: Wind-blown impact ripples from Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley, USA. Pen is ~15 cm. Inferred transport direction is to the right on the image. Image credit: Ryan C. Ewing


An esker still physically associated with its parent glacier in Phlegra Montes, Mars

Post contributed by Colman Gallagher, University College Dublin.

Eskers are sinuous ridges composed of deposits (Image 1) laid down from meltwater flowing in tunnel-like conduits beneath glaciers (Image 2). On Earth, eskers are common components of deglaciated landscapes (Image 3) but eskers also can be observed emerging from the margins of intact glaciers.

Image 1

Image 1. A longitudinal section through part of an esker ridge in Ireland. Esker sediments are layered and often extremely coarse. The structures of the layers represent highly variable depositional settings within subglacial meltwater tunnels. The coarse sedimentary calibre represents extremely powerful meltwater flows.


Inverted wadis on Earth: analogs for inversion of relief on the Martian surface

Post contributed by Abdallah S. Zaki, Department of Geography, Ain Shams University.

The evolution of inverted topography on Earth and Mars can result from surface armouring of the channel, infilling of channels/valleys by lava flows, and cementation of valley floor by secondary minerals (such as, calcium carbonate, gypcrete, ferricrete, calcrete) – see post by Rebecca Williams. This post specifically concerns inverted wadis, which have been identified in a number of localities on Earth, including multiple localities in the Sahara and Arabia, Australia, the Ebro Basin of Spain, Utah, and New Mexico and west Texas (e.g., Miller, 1937; Maizels, 1987; 1990). Inversion of relief is observed commonly on Mars, for example, Eberswalde Crater, Arabia Terra, Juventae Chasma, Olympus Mons, and Antoniadi Crater (e.g., Pain et al., 2007; Williams et al., 2007).

Image 1

Image 1: Google Earth image of the dendritic pattern preserved in inverted wadis in eastern Saudi Arabia.


A Mud Flow on Mars?

Post contributed by Prof. Lionel Wilson, Lancaster University, UK and Dr. Peter J. Mouginis-Mark, Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, USA.

Image 1 shows a distinctive flow deposit southwest of the Cerberus Fossae on Mars.  The flow source is a ~20 m deep, ~12 x 1.5 km wide depression within a yardang field associated with the Medusae Fossae Formation.  The flow traveled for ~40 km following topographic lows to leave a deposit on average 3-4 km wide and up to 10 m thick.  The surface morphology of the deposit suggests that it was produced by the emplacement of a fluid flowing in a laminar fashion and possessing a finite yield strength. There is an ongoing debate about whether flows in this region of Mars are lava flows or water-rich debris flows.

Image 1: Location of mudflow deposit on Mars.

Image 1: Location of the distinctive flow deposit, called Zephyria Fluctus, just north of the equator on Mars. The inset at top left shows the broader context of the flow. The grey area is the flow’s extent and black boxes indicating the position of Images 2 and 3 (Fig. 2) and Image 4 (Fig. 4). The inferred flow direction is from SW to NE. Mosaic of CTX images D01_027675_1806, D04_028941_1805 and G19_025697_1803.


A cracking comet!

Post contributed by Dr. M. Ramy El-Maarry, Institute of Physics, University of Berne, Switzerland.

The European Rosetta spacecraft went into orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in Aug, 2014. Since then, the spacecraft’s imaging instruments, particularly the OSIRIS camera, have been sending images of the comet’s surface in unprecedented detail showing an amazingly complex landscape and a suite of geomorphological features that suggest many processes are currently at work and acting on the surface.

Image 1: OSIRIS images of various polygonal fracture systems on the surface of the comet.

Image 1: OSIRIS images of various polygonal fracture systems on the surface of the comet.


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