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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Wind abraded ventifacts on Mars and Earth

Post by Dr. Julie Laity .

Ventifacts are rocks abraded and shaped by windblown particles, characterized by their distinctive morphology and texture (Laity, 1994). Many show one or more facets, separated by sharp keels that form through progressive planation by impacting sand grains (Laity and Bridges, 2008).

Image 1: Martian ventifacts showing windward-facing beveled surfaces (facets) and striations that parallel the wind direction. Wind tails often form behind the ventifacts. Spirit Sol 584, 11:41:36 Local Solar – PanCam, Left 2

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Ventifacts on Earth and Mars

Post by Nathan Bridges.

Definition and Significance of Ventifacts

Ventifacts are rocks abraded by windblown particles, generally or exclusively sand (Laity and Bridges, 2009). On Earth, they are found mostly in arid regions with little vegetation, a fairly abundant supply of sand (or an ancient supply for relict ventifacts), and winds capable of exceeding the threshold speed necessary for sand movement. Their form depends on original rock texture, shape, and composition, with common forms including facets sloping into the wind and wind-aligned elongated pits, flutes, and grooves. The direction of facet dip slopes and the long axes of textures serve as proxies for the predominant highest speed winds that carried the sand and thereby serve as paleowind indicators. It is common for ventifact textures to result from mineralogical or petrological hardness variations in the rock or from primary textures such as vesicles.

Dunes West of Hellas Planitia, Mars

Image 1:a) Elongated pits and flutes in limestone/marble within the Little Cowhole Mountains, Mojave Desert, CA. b) Pits, some maybe primary vesicles, and flutes in basalt from the Cady Mountains, Mojave Desert, c) Flutes in Diorite from hills east of Silver Lake, Mojave Desert.

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Meridiani on the Murray

Post by Dr. Jonathan Clarke

Soon after landing at Meridiani Planum the Opportunity rover imaged some curious wind erosion features. These were the haematite concretions commonly known as “blueberries” standing out from the substrate on stalks up to a cm or so in length. Good examples were seen at Eagle Crater, others were imaged at Fram Crater (Image 1). In places, the concretion has protected the underlying substrate from erosion. Sediments hosting the hematitic concretions have been eroded, leaving some concretions perched on small stalks. Several rocks at the Spirit landing site also show pedestals or fingers projecting away from rock surfaces.

Dedos on Meridiani Planum, Mars

Image 1: Two approximate true colour Pancam images of a boulder in Fram Crater, Meridiani Planum showing haematite concretions with a residual tail or stalk. The circular depression in the lower panel is from drilling by the RAT instrument. It is 45 mm in diameter. Top panel Sol085B_P2532_1. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell. Bottom panel image Sol088B_P2542_1. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell.

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