Possible Closed-System Pingos in Utopia Planitia, Mars

Post by Dr. Richard Soare, Geography Department, Dawson College, Montreal, QC H3Z 1A4, Canada.

On Earth, hydrostatic or closed-system pingos (CSPs) are perennial ice-cored mounds formed by the freeze-thaw cycling of water when or as thermokarst lakes lose their water by drainage or evaporation. The mounds vary in shape from circular or sub-circular to elongate, are sub-kilometer in their long axes and may reach decameters in height. Some mounds show summit depressions, radial fractures and tiers. As the CSPs degrade, small-scale debris flows or slumps may occur; end-stage degradation often is marked by debris-laden ramparts elevated symmetrically or asymmetrically above the surrounding terrain. The presence of closed-system pingos on Mars might thus inform us about the planets’ past and/or present hydrologic conditions (Image 1).

Fig. 1

Image 1: Candidate closed-system pingos (CSPs) at the mid latitudes of Utopia Planitia, Mars
(HiRISE image ESP 027650_2275). Note the location of the potentially ice-cored mounds in polygonised thermokarst-like depressions and the interesting mound morphologies. On Earth, CSPs form almost uniquely in the midst of drained or water-depleted thermokarst lakes (alases) that are nested in ice-rich terrain. On Mars, we propose that the depressions form by the sublimation-driven loss of near-surface ice; this would also be the principal driver of ice-core depletion and/or collapse. Mounds 1-4 exhibit circular shapes and summit depressions that are commonplace amongst CSPs in regions like the Tuktoyaktuk Coastlands of northern Canada. The crescentic shape of Mound 5 could be a marker of mound collapse and the deflation/sublimation of a near-surface ice core, the geological buttress of pingo topography on Earth.

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