Mountains and buried ice on Mars

December 5, 2011
Phlegra Montes is a range of gently curving mountains and ridges on Mars. They extend from the northeastern portion of the Elysium volcanic province to the northern lowlands. This image is centred at 33°N/162°E. The High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on ESA’s Mars Express collected the data for these images on 1 June 2011 during orbit 9465. The images have a ground resolution of about 16 m per pixel. Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

(PhysOrg.com) -- New images from Mars Express show the Phlegra Montes mountain range, in a region where radar probing indicates large volumes of water ice are hiding below. This could be a source of water for future astronauts.

Phlegra Montes is a range of gently curving mountains and ridges on . It extends from the northeastern portion of the Elysium volcanic province to the northern lowlands, spanning latitudes from roughly 30°N to 50°N.

The mountains themselves are probably not volcanic in origin, but have been raised by ancient tectonic forces that squeezed different regions of the surface together.

New images from the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA’s orbiter allow a closer inspection and show that almost every mountain is surrounded by ‘lobate debris aprons’ – curved features typically observed around plateaus and at these latitudes.

Phlegra Montes is a range of gently curving mountains and ridges on Mars. Flow patterns attributable to water are widely visible across the image. Linear flow patterns can be seen inside the valley (Box 1). Nearly every mountain is surrounded by an apron of rocky debris (Box 2). Over time, this debris appears to have moved down the mountainside and looks similar to the debris found covering glaciers here on Earth. Lobe-shaped structures seen inside impact craters in the region (Box 3) are known as concentric crater fill and are perhaps another indication of subsurface water ice. The High-Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express collected the data for these images on 1 June 2011 during orbit 9465. Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Previous studies have shown that this material appears to have moved down the mountain slopes over time, and looks similar to the debris found covering glaciers here on Earth.

The suggestion then is that there may be glaciers buried just below the surface in this region.  

This interpretation is backed up by the on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter looking beneath the martian surface.

The radar shows that lobate debris aprons are indeed strongly associated with the presence of water ice, perhaps only 20 m down.

Further evidence for relatively recent glaciation can be seen inside impact craters in the region. Series of ridges are thought to have developed when the ancient craters filled with snow. Over time, the snow compacted to form glaciers which then sculpted the crater floors.

Phlegra Montes is a range of gently curving mountains and ridges on Mars. They extend from the northeastern portion of the Elysium volcanic province to the northern lowlands. The High-Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express collected the data for these images on 1 June 2011 during orbit 9465. This perspective view has been calculated from the Digital Terrain Model derived from the stereo channels. Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

There are yet more glacial flow patterns visible in the valley at the centre of the image.

It is believed that mid-latitude glaciers developed at various times in the last several hundred million years, when the polar axis of Mars was significantly different from today, leading to quite different climatic conditions.

All of this points to plentiful just below the surface in Phlegra Montes. If this proves to be true, such ice fields could provide future with a source of water on the Red Planet.

Explore further: Martian Glaciers: Did They Originate From The Atmosphere

Related Stories

Vast areas of low latitude subsurface ice found on Mars

March 9, 2011

There could be more subsurface ice on Mars than previously thought, and vast stretches of it may lie just south of the equator. Indeed, one of the proposed landing sites for the Mars Science Laboratory could hold the mother ...

Mars' northern polar regions in transition

August 5, 2011

A newly released image from ESA's Mars Express shows the north pole of Mars during the red planet's summer solstice. All the carbon dioxide ice has gone, leaving just a bright cap of water ice.

Just how low can Mars go?

October 8, 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 complex history ...

Springtime at Mars' south pole

June 8, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESA's Mars Express celebrates eight years in space with a new view of ice in the southern polar region of Mars. The poles are closely linked to the planet’s climate and constantly change with the seasons. ...

Recommended for you

Hubble catches a transformation in the Virgo constellation

December 9, 2016

The constellation of Virgo (The Virgin) is especially rich in galaxies, due in part to the presence of a massive and gravitationally-bound collection of over 1300 galaxies called the Virgo Cluster. One particular member of ...

Khatyrka meteorite found to have third quasicrystal

December 9, 2016

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers from the U.S. and Italy has found evidence of a naturally formed quasicrystal in a sample obtained from the Khatyrka meteorite. In their paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, ...

Scientists sweep stodgy stature from Saturn's C ring

December 9, 2016

As a cosmic dust magnet, Saturn's C ring gives away its youth. Once thought formed in an older, primordial era, the ring may be but a mere babe – less than 100 million years old, according to Cornell-led astronomers in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.