March 10th, 2013 by James Ayre
Previously hidden subsurface flood channels have been discovered on Mars by researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. These newly discovered flood channels are providing further evidence that earlier in its history Mars was warmer and wetter.
“Mars is considered to have been cold and dry over the past 2.5 billion years, but these channels suggest evidence of flooding. Understanding the source and scale of the young channels present in Elysium Planitia — an expanse of plains along the equator, and the youngest volcanic region on the planet — is essential to comprehend recent Martian hydrologic activity and determine if such floods could have induced climate change.”
“As a consequence of extensive volcanism throughout the past several hundred million years, young lava covers most of the surface of Elysium Planitia, burying evidence of its recent geologic history, including the source and most of the length of the 1,000 kilometer-long Marte Vallis channel system. Marte Vallis has a similar morphology to more ancient channel systems on Mars that likely formed by the catastrophic release of ground water; however, little is known about Marte Vallis due to its burial by lava.”
The researchers utilized data from the Shallow Radar instrument on the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft to explore the subsurface of Elysium Planitia. “They were able to map the buried channels and establish that the floods originated from a now buried portion of the Cerberus Fossae fracture system.”
“Our findings show that the scale of erosion was previously underestimated and that channel depth was at least twice that of previous approximations,” said Gareth Morgan, geologist at the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies and primary author on the paper. “The source of the floodwaters suggests they originated from a deep groundwater reservoir and may have been released by local tectonic or volcanic activity. This work demonstrates the importance of orbital sounding radar in understanding how water has shaped the surface of Mars.”
The new finding was detailed in the March 7th issue of the journal Science.
Image Credits: NASA/MOLA Team/Smithsonian
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