Martian elusive Pits and the challenge of working remotely

Post by Dr. Andreas Johnsson, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Geomorphologists working with Mars share a frustration of not being able to visit their objects of investigation. To counter this, a commonly used approach is to look for environments on Earth that resemble those studied on Mars. This approach, called Earth-analogue studies, helps to guide our line of reasoning in deciphering formation mechanisms of specific martian landforms of interest. Mars, being the most earth-like planet in the solar system hosts numerous landscapes and landforms that in plan-view show remarkable similarities to known features on Earth. Especially striking examples are martian glacial flow-like features and gullies to that resemble terrestrial glaciers and fluvially-incised ravines, respectively. As a consequence their Earth counterparts have been studied with great intensity for the last couple of decades. Although correspondences in form may guide our way of thinking of plausible formative processes by reference to Earth, the approach is not without pitfalls. For example, experimental studies in Mars climate chambers have shown that fluvially triggered slope processes may be of a completely different nature under Mars’ atmospheric conditions of low pressure combined with low temperatures, but the resulting landform looks about the same. This is a problem of equifinality (i.e. convergence of form), something that also terrestrial scientists encounter but which is a major challenge in planetary geomorphology (e.g. Hauber et al. 2011; Zimbelman 2001). One way to try to minimize equifinality is by taking whole landform assemblages into account where different types of landforms may have some genetic linkages.

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