Martian lakes, seas formed by emerging underground aquifers

Oct 19, 2010
Mars. Image: NASA

Researchers at the Planetary Science Institute have found a new explanation for how seas and lakes may have once developed on Mars.

J. Alexis Palmero Rodriguez, research scientist at PSI, has been studying the Martian northern lowlands region, which contains extensive sedimentary deposits that resemble the abyssal plains of ’s ocean floors. It is also like the floors of other basins on Mars where oceans are thought to have developed.

The origin of these deposits and the formation of Martian lakes and seas are controversial. One theory is that there was a sudden release of large volumes of water and sediment from zones of apparent crustal collapse known as “chaotic terrains.” However, these zones of collapse are on the whole rare on Mars, while the plains deposits are widespread and common within large basin settings, Rodriguez said.

Citing evidence found in the planet’s northern plains south of Gemini Scopuli in Planum Boreum, Rodriguez proposes in an article published in Icarus that groundwater emerged through extensive and widespread fractures forming the floors of ancient continental-scale basins on Mars. This led to the formation of river systems, large-scale regional erosion, sedimentary deposition and water ponding.

This model does not require sudden massive groundwater discharges, he said. Instead, it advocates for groundwater discharges being widespread, long-lived and common in the northern plains of Mars.

“With the loss over time of water from the subsurface aquifer, areas of the northern plains ultimately collapsed, creating the rough hilly surfaces we see today. Some plateaus may have avoided this fate and preserved sedimentary plains containing an immense record of hydrologic activity,” he said. “The geologic record in the collapsed hilly regions would have been jumbled and largely lost.

“This model implies that groundwater discharges within basin settings on Mars may have been frequent and led to formation of mud pools, lakes and oceans. In addition, our model indicates this could have happened at any point in the planet’s history,” he said. “There could have been many oceans on over time.”

If life existed in Martian underground systems, life forms could have been brought up to the surface via the discharges of these deep-seated fluids. Organisms and their fossils may therefore be preserved within some of these sedimentary strata, Rodriguez said.

Explore further: Observing the onset of a magnetic substorm

Provided by Planetary Science Institute

4.9 /5 (8 votes)

Related Stories

Exposed rocks point to water on ancient Mars

Oct 14, 2010

A new discovery of hydrothermally altered carbonate-bearing rocks on Mars points toward habitable environments deep in the martian crust, a Planetary Science Institute researcher said.

Device reveals more about Mars' atmosphere

Oct 12, 2010

Instruments designed by a UT Dallas professor to measure atmospheric components on the surface of Mars have uncovered important clues about the planet’s atmosphere and climate history.

Important role of groundwater springs in shaping Mars

Dec 11, 2008

Data and images from Mars Express suggest that several Light Toned Deposits, some of the least understood features on Mars, were formed when large amounts of groundwater burst on to the surface. Scientists ...

Just how low can Mars go?

Oct 08, 2010

There are few places on Mars lower than this. On the left of this image, the floor of Melas Chasma sinks nine kilometres below the surrounding plains. New images from ESA’s Mars Express highlight the ...

Mars mysteries could be answered through airplanes

Oct 08, 2010

There are regions on Mars where the ground is much too rugged for a rover to explore. Instead, a robotic, rocket-powered airplane could be the ideal way to investigate some of these intriguing but as-yet inaccessible ...

Five giant impact basins reveal the ancient equator of Mars

Apr 18, 2005

Since the time billions of years ago when Mars was formed, it has never been a spherically symmetric planet, nor is it composed of similar materials throughout, say scientists who have studied the planet. Since its formation, ...

Recommended for you

Observing the onset of a magnetic substorm

10 hours ago

Magnetic substorms, the disruptions in geomagnetic activity that cause brightening of aurora, may sometimes be driven by a different process than generally thought, a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Ph ...

We are all made of stars

12 hours ago

Astronomers spend most of their time contemplating the universe, quite comfortable in the knowledge that we are just a speck among billions of planets, stars and galaxies. But last week, the Australian astronomical ...

ESA video: The ATV-5 Georges Lemaitre loading process

12 hours ago

This time-lapse video shows the ATV-5 Georges Lemaitre loading process and its integration on the Ariane 5 launcher before its transfer and launch to the International Space Station from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French ...

Titan's subsurface reservoirs modify methane rainfall

15 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The international Cassini mission has revealed hundreds of lakes and seas spread across the icy surface of Saturn's moon Titan, mostly in its polar regions. These lakes are filled not with water ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Caliban
2.5 / 5 (2) Oct 19, 2010
Highly unlikely, at the very best.

What is there to have prevented this groundwater from emerging at any other time? And where would this groundwater have originated in the first place?

And, not all types of rock are highly soluble, so this notion of the aquifer's strata collapsing due to the loss of the water they contained is very highly suspect, as well, and would leave very definite evidence structurally and mineralogically- yet there is no mention of any such evidence to give credence to the proposition.

I see no proposal for how these "sealed aquifers"(my words) came to be formed adjacent to basins -or vice versa- and then were followed by some "fracturing" event that allowed the water to be released.

This is, without a doubt, the wildest speculation that I've ever seen reported here on Physorg, under the guise of legitimate research.