Geologists discover new class of landform -- on Mars

Mar 22, 2012
Images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show exposed rock strata in periodic bedrock ridges on the floor of the West Candor Chasma on Mars. Credit: NASA

(PhysOrg.com) -- An odd, previously unseen landform could provide a window into the geological history of Mars, according to new research by University of Washington geologists.

They call the structures periodic bedrock ridges (and they use the abbreviation PBRs to evoke a favorite brand of beer). The ridges look like but, rather than being made from material piled up by the , the scientists say the ridges actually form from wind erosion of bedrock.

"These bedforms look for all the world like sand dunes but they are carved into hard rock by wind," said David Montgomery, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences. It is something there are not many analogs for on Earth."

He believes the ridges, while still bedrock, are composed of a softer, more erodible material than typical bedrock and were formed by an unusual form of that occurs perpendicular to the prevailing wind rather than in the same direction.

He contrasts the ridges with another bedrock form called a yardang, which has been carved over time by headwinds. A yardang has a wide, blunt leading edge in the face of the wind, and its sides are tapered so that it resembles a teardrop.

In the case of periodic bedrock ridges, Montgomery believes high on Mars are deflected into the air by a land formation, and they erode the bedrock in the area where they settle back to the surface.

Spacing between ridges depends on how long it takes for the winds to come back to the surface, and that is determined by the strength of the wind, the size of the and the density of the atmosphere, he said.

The discovery is important because if the ridges were actually created by wind depositing material into dunes, "you're not going to have information from any prior history of the material that is exposed at the surface," he said.

"But if it's cut into instead, and you're looking at the residual of a rock that has been eroded away, you can still get the history of what was happening long ago from that spot," Montgomery said.

"You could actually go back and look at some earlier eras in Martian history, and the wind would have done us the favor of exposing the layers that would have that history within it," he said. "There are some areas of the Martian surface, potentially large areas, that up until now we've thought you couldn't really get very far back into Mars history geologically."

Montgomery is the lead author of a paper documenting the discovery published online March 9 in the Journal of Geophysical Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Coauthors are Joshua Bandfield, a UW research assistant professor of Earth and space sciences, and Scott Becker, who did the work as an undergraduate in Earth and space sciences and has received his degree. The work was funded in part by NASA.

There could be landforms on Earth that are somewhat similar to periodic bedrock ridges, Montgomery said, but to date there's nothing exactly like it, largely because there are not many bedrock landscapes on Earth in which wind is the main erosion agent.

"There are very few places ... where you have bedrock exposed at the surface where there isn't also water that is carving valleys, that's shaping the topography," he said. " is a different planet, obviously, and the biggest difference is the lack of fluvial action, the lack of water working on the surface."

Explore further: NASA's Orion spacecraft back in Florida after test flight

More information: The paper is available at www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2012/2011JE003970.shtml

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User comments : 47

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HannesAlfven
3 / 5 (13) Mar 22, 2012
But, how can the Martian wind carve out bedrock, given the low density of the Martian atmosphere? I find it peculiar that this important detail was left out.
Skultch
4.8 / 5 (8) Mar 22, 2012
But, how can the Martian wind carve out bedrock, given the low density of the Martian atmosphere? I find it peculiar that this important detail was left out.


time
kaasinees
1 / 5 (12) Mar 22, 2012
But, how can the Martian wind carve out bedrock, given the low density of the Martian atmosphere? I find it peculiar that this important detail was left out.


time

I would like to see your experiments confirming this.
Otherwise just hot air from your mouth.
Since when does wind create structures like this?
Here the air is pretty dense compared to on Mars, and wind erosion has entirely different effects on our landscapes.
HannesAlfven
2 / 5 (16) Mar 22, 2012
It is with such unconvincing inferences as these that one is completely within their right to ask why the electrical machining inference is not given consideration. When we constrain the inferential step to only include those inferences which confirm our initial hypotheses, we turn science into a social endeavor, where theories rest upon our willingness to ignore alternative explanations.
Skultch
5 / 5 (14) Mar 22, 2012
But, how can the Martian wind carve out bedrock, given the low density of the Martian atmosphere? I find it peculiar that this important detail was left out.


time

I would like to see your experiments confirming this.
Otherwise just hot air from your mouth.
Since when does wind create structures like this?
Here the air is pretty dense compared to on Mars, and wind erosion has entirely different effects on our landscapes.


He asked "how can" and implied that he didn't understand why the premise was assumed. I merely submitted my guess for their premise, since that's all he was asking. He didn't ask for peer review, did he?

Dang, you guys have high expectations from laypeople sometimes.
Skultch
5 / 5 (10) Mar 22, 2012
Hannes, how old do you think Mars is? Just curious. Because if you think it is only ~10,000 years old, then of course you would throw out the erosion hypothesis. That's just bias and in no way does it undercut the hypothesis. Also, you seem to assume that they didn't consider other hypotheses. What part of the full article motivated that thought? Again, just curious, not arguing anything in particular.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (9) Mar 22, 2012
Martian wind also carries sand. Even thin air with a load of abrasive material can erode rock over a long period.
barakn
4.2 / 5 (15) Mar 22, 2012
The evidence that the Martian atmosphere is capable of eroding rock is obvious. Dust storms. If the wind is capable of lifting up a dust particle it is capable of slamming that particle into a rock substrate. So unless they've got a convincing argument that there's no such thing as a Martian dust storm, HannesAlfven and kaasinees owe Skultch a big apology.
Shootist
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 22, 2012
An Earth analog.

http://www.ventur...Page.htm

or not.
Skultch
5 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2012
An Earth analog.

http://www.ventur...Page.htm

or not.


Going there in May with the wife. I've been to Arches and Moab, but not there. Can't wait. :D

Kaas, I'll PM you my findings when I get back. ;)
julianpenrod
3 / 5 (15) Mar 22, 2012
The air in the Himalayas is denser than that of Mars, but no such erosion is visible there. Thin air cannot cannot necessarily carry very large dust or sand particles. And, since there seem no meteor creaters in the picture, this seems to have been a process that took place in the very recent past. It is unlikley in the extreme that such erosion is responsible for these patterns.
n0ns3ns0r
5 / 5 (2) Mar 23, 2012
[...] inferences [...] inference [...] inferential [...] inferences

You make the inference. They make the implication. Also, your last sentence was a run-on. I imagine planetary science to be more easily understood by those with a proper grasp of language. Can you understand what I am implying?
RitchieGuy
1 / 5 (6) Mar 23, 2012
The enlarged version (top) zoomed in to represent the inset from 50 miles up has been airbrushed to smooth out certain features that have been left in the original version (bottom), which is from 200 miles above the surface. They are not sand dunes and neither water nor wind driven. . .and that's all I will say about it.
Isaacsname
5 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2012
Almost look like massive dried-up thermal pools from long ago

http://farm4.stat...22_z.jpg

Keep your stars, I own them all already
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (4) Mar 23, 2012
julianpenrod: Erosion in the Himalayas is driven almost entirely by water and ice. With no running water of moving ice on most of Mars, all that leaves is wind. Also, there's little dust and sand in the Himalayas, as the water washes it away, and the ice freezes it in place.

Martian air can hold a lot of sand and dust, as shown by the periodic planet-wide duststorms.
julianpenrod
3.8 / 5 (10) Mar 23, 2012
There is dust and sand and small stones in the Himalayas. Another example of the kind of short sighted reactionary non reasoning so often employed in non arguments. Even if most of the erosion in the Himalayas was due to water and ice, that stoill doesn't mean sand abrading can't also be a factor! Like the people saying the sun is warming and that's why climate is changing, as if it was inmpossible that something else even in addition to the sun, if it was warming, could be responsible! And just because features can be hard toi see doesn't mean a lot of material is suspended in the air. It's harder to see through six feet of smoke laden air, and the amount of substance there can represents only a few dozen grains of sand! There is no reason to believe that heavy sand erosion is active on Mars.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (3) Mar 23, 2012
No, you're right, sand abrading could be a factor in the Himalayas. I didn't say it wasn't. It's just that water and ice erode faster, so the evidence of sand isn't seen there.

As for sand on Mars, it has thousands of square kilometers of sand dunes. Sand dunes are produced by wind redistributing sand. If you have dunes, you have to have enough air density and wind speed to move the sand. If the sand is moving, it will cause erosion. Therefore, wind-blown sand causes erosion on Mars. With no other apparent source of erosion, it almost has to be the primary cause.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.7 / 5 (18) Mar 24, 2012
The enlarged version (top) zoomed in to represent the inset from 50 miles up has been airbrushed to smooth out certain features that have been left in the original version (bottom), which is from 200 miles above the surface. They are not sand dunes and neither water nor wind driven. . .and that's all I will say about it.
Why yes... I do have access to the original photos and I can tell you that they definitively show what appears to be a glassy-headed martian soccer match, complete with grandstands and a parking lot.

Except that, as the angle of the shot is unclear, I cannot tell if they are dead or up and running around. I am sure however that NASA knows this.
There is no reason to believe that heavy sand erosion is active on Mars.
-Except for those incessant, planetwide sandstorms and dust devils.

"Typical wind speeds in the Martian atmosphere exceed 125mph. Gusts can often reach 300-375mph.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.5 / 5 (17) Mar 24, 2012
"A 31m/s wind on Mars (density = 0.02 kg/m3) generates almost 300 Watts per square metre. This is equivalent to 7.9 m/s (18 mph) winds on Earth (density 1.225 kg/m3) where sand would be blown about. Due to the reduced gravity on Mars, it'll be even easier to move sand particles in the Martian environment."
http://www.marsro...ars.html

-Hey julian - quit pretending you know what you are talking about. It is unseemly and does your superstition a disservice.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (1) Mar 24, 2012
Ghost: Thank you. I didn't have actual numbers, but growing up in an area prone to sand storms, do have first-hand experience. Apparently the old estimates (source?) I remember of 600 mph winds aren't accepted anymore.
Archaeopteryx
4 / 5 (4) Mar 24, 2012
It looks like skin on your hand, like a palm print or fingerprint from the closer image. Maybe it could be intelligent life on mars that are our ancestors?

Just a sci fi thought, but it does look like a fingerprint sort of
erielhonan
5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2012
On the question of dust - with such a low proportion of water or other polar, liquid solvents, dust on Mars can be as small as it wants to be and not end up suspended in, attracted to, or agglomerated by much of anything except electrical forces. Also, Mars has been sitting there without plate tectonics, surface liquid, or life forms for billions of years. This erosion could be as gradual as you'd like.
julianpenrod
4.1 / 5 (9) Mar 25, 2012
But sand particles, each with a density thousands of times times that of the Martian air, would not be raised to the same speed as the much less dense air. Earth air is itself 60 times as dense as the Martian air, so it is not reasonable to assume the same types of efficiency in getting particles aloft and keeping them there.
All this all begs the question, then, if Martian air, so much less capable ot carrying dust than earth air, can cause this kind of formation, why isn't it more common on earth?
erielhonan
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2012
@julianpenrod - it doesn't have to be sand-sized particles. It could be clay-sized particles, or smaller. Even atom cluster-sized particles would have an erosive effect in that environment, given enough time. And very small particles are going to be much more prevalent on Mars because it's entirely arid (those particles mostly end up suspended in water on Earth... they serve as nucleation points for rain formation, and therefore get washed out of the air frequently).
julianpenrod
4.1 / 5 (9) Mar 25, 2012
Invoking time does not good. The lack of atnmosphere on Mars and the absence, supposedly, of any other type of erosion, would allow craters to remain a long time. The lack of any craters here, especially given Mars' proximity to the asteroid belt suggests this terrain must be very, very young. And that brings up a good point. If the sand erosion is as effective as those who attacked my statements contend, how can the hundreds of millions of years old cratered terrain remain, why wasn't it sand blasted down long ago?
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2012
Harder rock. Sedimentary rock erodes faster than basalt.
julianpenrod
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 25, 2012
The lack of detail in nkalanga's reply makes it unclear who exactly they are necessarily responding to, but, if it is my statements, among other things, not all craters were basaltic rock and the basaltic ones were around much, much longer than the unmarked terrain in the picture. And, again, if this can be caused so easily by even clay sized grains, as erielhonan claims, why isn't this terrain extremely prevalent on earth? And ereielhonan's "argument" still ignores that fact that even clay particles have a density many times that of MArtian air and would not necessarily be so easy to launch at high speeds.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.7 / 5 (17) Mar 25, 2012
But sand particles, each with a density thousands of times times that of the Martian air, would not be raised to the same speed as the much less dense air. Earth air is itself 60 times as dense as the Martian air, so it is not reasonable to assume
But scientists do not 'reasonably assume', they sit down and calculate, and they do experiments.
The lack of any craters here, especially given Mars' proximity to the asteroid belt suggests this terrain must be very, very young.
Youre so freeking transparent.
why wasn't it sand blasted down long ago?
Scientists have very good explanations for all of this, which I surmise you are not interested in learning about. Im sorry but this is why you godlovers make me so sick. You pretend to be rationally thinking through a problem while not caring about reason in the slightest.
http://www.space....ani.html

-It is reasonable to assume that experts know far more than you do.
jsa09
5 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2012
I should not but will respond to julienprod's question.
1) mars gravity is less than earths gravity
2) Mars atmospheric pressure is also less
3) Mars has dust storms
4) dust errodes
5) asteriods do not constantly crash into mars the way they did in the old days
6) as time goes by there are less meteor strikes
7) Meteors have not struck every square centimeter of Mars so there are places that can erode outside of being struck.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2012
jsa09: 8) Mars also has a lot of eroded, sand filled, and in some cases, possibly flooded craters, which further confirms that the surface changes. If a crater has sand in it, it has to have gotten there some way, and currently, the only way is wind. Impacts do not create sand-filled craters.

Not directly related to your comments, but we have seen at least one new crater in the last few years. Our orbiter took pictures of an area, and there was no crater. A while later, new pictures showed there was a crater, so it had to be new. It wasn't a very big crater, and even the nonexistent Martians probably wouldn't have noticed the impact unless they were nearby, but it was the first natural, positively dated crater we've found on another world.
julianpenrod
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 25, 2012
More evidence TheGhostofOtto1923 is a malingerer, someone who talks just to hear themselves talk, who has developed an obsession with attacking me. I made sound, signifivcant assessmnes. TheGhostofOtto1923 merely mocks me for using the word "assume", and then calls me
"transparent" because I said Mars was close to the asteroid belt.
TheGhostofOtto1923 does, however, again bring up PhysOrg's questionable rating system. I made significant points, but rated no higher than 1, TheGhostofOtto1923 carries out a gratuitous mockery and gets a 5. What's more, that 5 seems to have been placed within minutes of TheGhostofOtto923 placing their post. It looks very much like TheGhostofOtto1923 arranges with a conspirator to mutually place 5 ratings for each other no matter what, or The GhostofOtto1923 has more than one account and is giving themselves ratings.
julianpenrod
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 25, 2012
jsa9 compliments themself unduly in calling what they placed a "response". Essentially, they only repeated what I said! Dust does not erode. Dust smaller than sand, moving at one inch per second or less will not erode in the manner shown there, even over long periods of time. And as for asteroids not having hit "every square centimeter" of Mars, the area displayed is tens if not hundreds of meters on a side! jsa09 behaves like someone who talks just to hear themselves talk.
alfie_null
not rated yet Mar 26, 2012
With a sufficiently sensitive microphone, listening at the right frequency range, you might be able to hear the wind as it oscillates over the "waves" it's etched into the surface.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (14) Mar 26, 2012
More evidence TheGhostofOtto1923 is a malingerer, someone who talks just to hear themselves talk, who has developed an obsession with attacking me.
You flatter yourself preacher. I denounce all religionists equally, by attacking and exposing their nonsense as best I can. And by showing how their ignorance is a danger to the world.
TheGhostofOtto1923 merely mocks me for using the word "assume", and then calls me "transparent" because I said Mars was close to the asteroid belt.
I called you transparent because you are obviously trying to justify your creationist agenda by pretending to logically refute the work of scientists. All you do is display your ignorance. I cannot help but make fun of this, which is the proper thing to do. Go burn a witch padre.
The GhostofOtto1923 has more than one account and is giving themselves ratings.
Naw lots of people here think you are full of crap.

Oh I see I forgot to include the phrase 'you pompous ass' somewhere in this post.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (14) Mar 26, 2012
With a sufficiently sensitive microphone, listening at the right frequency range, you might be able to hear the wind as it oscillates over the "waves" it's etched into the surface.
I understand the next rover will have such a microphone -?
nkalanaga
not rated yet Mar 26, 2012
I believe it does, although whether it would work at such low frequencies I don't know. It should pick up ordinary wind sounds.

For the wind over surface features a seismometer would be ideal. Those on Earth can detect vibrations from wind blowing around and over buildings, so might work on Martian wind over rocks. The problem there is that it would have to solidly mounted to rock, and that wouldn't be easy.
julianpenrod
4.1 / 5 (9) Mar 26, 2012
TheGhostofOtto1923 admits themself a malingerer in every word and action. None of their comments has the slightest "scientific" credibility or even content. TheGhostofOtto1923 admits they have a vicious hatred of all who accept the presence of God. The Ghost ofOtto1923 espouses annihilation of cuiltures thqat they don't like which, if any number refuse to make themselves tiles on TheGhostofOtto1923's floor, means endorsing genocide. The GhostofOtto1923 described their devotion to opposing religion "as best I can", which means mocking even where mockery is undeserved. TheGhostofOtto1923, for example, trundles the atheist lie that religion has been responsible for all the wars. They also say the U.S. won in Vietnam and what is depicted as totalitarianism they endorse. And, when I said that, because Mars was near the asteroid belt, it was a more than likely target for meteorite strikes, TheGhostofOtto1923 declared it "creationist"! They are no better than a laughingstock.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.5 / 5 (16) Mar 26, 2012
Ha! You referring to me in the 3rd person is funny.
refuse to make themselves tiles on TheGhostofOtto1923's floor, means endorsing genocide.
Naw I read your book and this is what you all endorse isnt it? According to joshua and gideon?
which means mocking even where mockery is undeserved
Naw I mock nonsense like
The air in the Himalayas is denser than that of Mars, but no such erosion is visible there.
and
this seems to have been a process that took place in the very recent past
and
It is unlikley in the extreme that such erosion is responsible for these patterns.
...as if reading one news release can give you some meaningful insight into something that dozens of scientists with decades of training and experience spend man-months pouring over and analyzing scientifically, using techniques developed over generations of similar endeavor.

How can I not mock this?? Dont you realize how SILLY this is??? No of course you dont. Trust me mockery is well-deserved.
julianpenrod
4 / 5 (8) Mar 26, 2012
I refer to TheGhostofOtto1923 in the third person because I am speaking to all who are reading here.
Based on The GhostofOtto1023's statements, then, they believe it is "nonsense" to expect that, if sand erosion is supposed to have created the oberserved formations in the thin air of Mars, it should be visible where there is thin air and sand on earth. Or that, because there are no craters pocking the region that it must be very recent. In TheGhostofOtto1923's world, the process here was taking place over a billion years, with meteors falling everywhere else on Mars except this reagion. In TheGhostofOtto1923's world, it's a "creationist" notion that Mars is near the asteroid belt. The Revolutionary War began because of religion. As did the Spanish-American War, the Korean War, the War in Vietnam. The U.S. won in Vietnam. And a totalitarian dictatorship, annihilating all cultures TheGhostofOtto1923 doesn't like is the ideal.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (14) Mar 27, 2012
they believe it is "nonsense" to expect that, if sand erosion is supposed to have created the oberserved formations in the thin air of Mars, it should be visible where there is thin air and sand on earth. Or that, because there are no craters pocking the region that it must be very recent. In TheGhostofOtto1923's world, the process here was taking place over a billion years, with meteors falling everywhere else on Mars except this reagion.
-Says the the xian scientist with degrees in ? Spelling maybe? Julian accepts just as many facts as is necessary to conclude that the universe is 5000 years old, and no more. And fills in the cracks with his own imagination.

Julian, nobody wants to exterminate anybody (except for the religionists who want to do this) - we just want you all to CHANGE your MINDS. Give up your caustic fantasies. Think that's possible? Because we don't want you all to destroy the world you know. Or derail the good work of scientists like the above.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (14) Mar 27, 2012
The air in the Himalayas is denser than that of Mars, but no such erosion is visible there.
Yes erosion increases with decreasing altitude and this us why the Himalayas appear to be upside down. You carking dimwit.
julianpenrod
3.8 / 5 (10) Mar 27, 2012
Again, notice that nowhere did The GhostofOtto1923 approach their stated implication that the carving on Mars supposedly took an extremely long time, on the order even of a billion years since less than that is considered recent geologically, yet, in all that time, meteorites never fell on that region. Likrwise, TheGhostofOtto1923 doesn't mention their stated assertion that describing Mars as near the asteroid belt was a creationst claim. Not will TheGhostofOtto1923 go near the fact that this is admittedly a new landform, supposedly caused by the same erosive processes as on earth, but no explanation is offered as to why nothing like it is on earth. As I said a number of times, this is another tactic of the New World Order, namely, always searching for the last word. The dullards the NWO seeks as devotees think that just making the last statement makes you right. So NWO shills are willing to continue making unfounded accusations, calling names, saying nothing.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (14) Mar 27, 2012
Again, notice that nowhere did The GhostofOtto1923 approach their stated implication that the carving on Mars supposedly took an extremely long time, on the order even of a billion years since less than that is considered recent geologically, yet, in all that time, meteorites never fell on that region.
Yes because I am not a scientist and know enough not to postulate on such things. I did however provide a link which DID explain them. Did you visit it julian? Or did you decide that you disagreed with it without having to read it? Transcendence enabled you to do this did it?
RitchieGuy
1 / 5 (3) Mar 28, 2012
One thing everyone seems to have failed to notice is the sharp narrowness of the ridges. Wind erosion would have worn those ridges down and smoothed them into more of a flattened surface if a great amount of time had passed since the ridges formed. They are too sharp like a knife blade.
DarkHorse66
4 / 5 (4) Mar 28, 2012
@RichieGuy: Even though we are talking about rock on Mars, the type of behaviour of the formation process is closer to that of wind over sand dunes.
http://en.wikiped...iki/Dune
http://en.wikiped...dform%29
http://en.wikiped...rocesses
If anything, under certain conditions, the wind is capable of INCREASING the prominence of ridges, ie gouging INTO the rock along specific lines/areas. Non selective abrading of rock is only one possible outcome. Cheers, DH66
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (14) Mar 28, 2012
One thing everyone seems to have failed to notice
is how much Ritchie enjoys displaying his profound ignorance. Naw everybody notices this as Ritchie can't help but do so. With an arrogance that only the truly dumb possess.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (14) Mar 28, 2012
Normal thought processes: 'Scientists tell me that these forms are caused by wind erosion. I wonder why their sharp ridges are not worn down? I think I will do a little research to find out why.'

Ritchie dumbass thought processes: 'Hey! Since I'm smarter than everybody including scientists, I am the only one capable of observing that those sharp ridges must mean that wind erosion didn't form them! My genius shines forth once again! Maybe they'll like me now.'

You dumbass.

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