Unusual greenhouse gases may have raised ancient Martian temperature

Nov 24, 2013
This is a split panel comparing a section of Arizona's Grand Canyon on left against a section of Mars' Nanedi Valles on right. Nanedi Valles is located in the Lunae Palus quadrangle of Mars. The northern part of the Nanedi Valles image shows a river once cut through it, similar to the one flowing through the Grand Canyon. Although this section of Nanedi Valles is nearly 2.5 km in width, other portions are at least twice as wide. Slight morphologic differences between the two canyons are attributable to the great age differences between the regions and the correspondingly higher degree of erosion on Mars. Credit: Penn State

Much like the Grand Canyon, Nanedi Valles snakes across the Martian surface suggesting that liquid water once crossed the landscape, according to a team of researchers who believe that molecular hydrogen made it warm enough for water to flow.

The presence of molecular , in addition to carbon dioxide and water, could have created a greenhouse effect on Mars 3.8 billion years ago that pushed temperatures high enough to allow for , the researchers state in the current issue of Nature Geoscience.

The team includes Ramses M. Ramirez, a doctoral student working with James Kasting, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences, Penn State.

Previous efforts to produce temperatures warm enough to allow for liquid water used climate models that include only carbon dioxide and water and were unsuccessful. The researchers used a model to show that an atmosphere with sufficient carbon dioxide, water and hydrogen could have made the surface temperatures of Mars warm to above freezing. Those above-freezing temperatures would allow liquid water to flow across the Martian surface over 3.8 billion years ago and form the ancient valley networks, such as Nanedi Valles, much the way sections of the Grand Canyon snake across the western United States today.

"This is exciting because explaining how early Mars could have been warm and wet enough to form the ancient valleys had scientists scratching their heads for the past 30 years," said Ramirez. "We think we may have a credible solution to this great mystery."

The researchers note that one alternative theory is that the Martian valleys formed after large meteorites bombarded the planet, generating steam atmospheres that then rained out. But this mechanism cannot produce the large volumes of water thought necessary to carve the valleys.

"We think that there is no way to form the ancient valleys with any of the alternate cold early Mars models," said Ramirez. "However, the problem with selling a warm early Mars is that nobody had been able to put forth a feasible mechanism in the past three decades. So, we hope that our results will get people to reconsider their positions."

Ramirez and post-doctoral researcher Ravi Kopparapu co-developed a one-dimensional climate model to demonstrate the possibility that the gas levels from volcanic activity could have created enough hydrogen and carbon dioxide to form a greenhouse and raise temperatures sufficiently to allow for liquid water. Once they developed the model, Ramirez ran the model using new hydrogen absorption data and used it to recreate the conditions on early Mars, a time when the sun was about 30 percent less bright than it is today.

"It's kind of surprising to think that Mars could have been warm and wet because at the time the sun was much dimmer," Ramirez said.

Mars' mantle appears to be more reduced than Earth's, based on evidence from Shergotty, Nahkla, and Chassigny meteorites, Martian meteorites named for the towns near which they were found. A more reduced mantle outgasses more hydrogen relative to water, thus bolstering the hydrogen .

"The hydrogen molecule is symmetric and appears to be quite boring by itself," said Ramirez. "However, other background gases, such as carbon dioxide, can perturb it and get it to function as a powerful greenhouse gas at wavelengths where and water don't absorb too strongly. So, hydrogen fills in the gaps left by the other two greenhouse gases."

Explore further: What happened to Mars? A planetary mystery

More information: Paper: dx.doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2000

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User comments : 15

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cantdrive85
1 / 5 (20) Nov 24, 2013
"We think that there is no way to form the ancient valleys with any of the alternate cold early Mars models," said Ramirez. "However, the problem with selling a warm early Mars is that nobody had been able to put forth a feasible mechanism in the past three decades. So, we hope that our results will get people to reconsider their positions."

The limitations of focusing on such a narrow range of possible geologic processes will prevent a "feasible mechanism" from every being found. Odd there is a completely feasible explanation that has been confirmed on much smaller scales, the only understanding needed is to appreciate the full range of scalability of plasma discharge.
http://www.thunde...uter.m4v
katesisco
1 / 5 (19) Nov 24, 2013
http://www.newton...dex.html
It is generally accepted that atomic hydrogen is by far the most abundant particle in the universe. It is also well established that about 10 times as much molecular hydrogen as atomic hydrogen solves the missing mass problem. Finally, Valentijn adds: "The halo culture that has grown up around the dark matter problem might never have arisen if the ISO results had been known earlier."
HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (19) Nov 24, 2013
It's a bit perplexing that the Grand Canyon is cast as the prototypical water-excavated rille for this article even as geologists apparently continue to routinely come together every few years to explore the mystery of what actually created the Grand Canyon.

There comes a point in science journalism when the widespread practice of ignoring competing worldviews in science could turn out to have unintended consequences, for if researchers really do invite others to imagine a similarity here, then at some people are bound to start paying attention to the fractal numbers associated with these formations -- and all of that effort to establish a link between Martian and terrestrial features could in the end be used to justify that BOTH are the result of electrical machining.

After all, there is the still the problem of the Colorado River punching straight through the Kaibab Upwarp plateau ...
Zephir_fan
Nov 24, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Mimath224
1 / 5 (13) Nov 24, 2013
Are we assuming that Mars' BB radiation is similar to Earth's and therefore would have enhanced any gh effect?
obama_socks
1.7 / 5 (15) Nov 24, 2013
It's a bit perplexing that the Grand Canyon is cast as the prototypical water-excavated rille for this article even as geologists apparently continue to routinely come together every few years to explore the mystery of what actually created the Grand Canyon.
-HannesAlfven

Awww…now everyone knows that it was Paul Bunyan along with his companion Babe, the Blue Ox who actually dug out the Grand Canyon by dragging his axe behind them.

m_(oLO)_m

And the Colorado River? Well, Paul Bunyan had nowhere else to pee.

Now that's my story and I'm sticking to it. ;)
Birger
1 / 5 (3) Nov 25, 2013
But how did the molecular hydrogen manage to stick around on Mars long enough for the water erosion to occur? Mars has an escape velocity of only 5 km/s. Hydrogen would have escaped relaitvely quickly, by gelological time scales.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (14) Nov 25, 2013
An interesting item jumped out at me while examining the enlarged image. In the lower left corner just above the image credit there are two side canyons. Note the right canyon's tributary flows from the rim of the canyon about a km away. That is a lot of erosion from such a short "river" in such an arid environment.
barakn
5 / 5 (1) Nov 26, 2013
An interesting item jumped out at me while examining the enlarged image. In the lower left corner just above the image credit there are two side canyons. Note the right canyon's tributary flows from the rim of the canyon about a km away. That is a lot of erosion from such a short "river" in such an arid environment.

Except that it doesn't come from the rim. It comes from somewhere southeast of the rim and only gets within 200 feet of the rim before veering away again. https://maps.goog...amp;z=17
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (13) Nov 26, 2013
And travels another whole km before frittering away, point still stands.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (12) Nov 26, 2013
On a side note, just to the north of this locale is Marble Canyon. My great grand-father was in the Army Corp of Engineers and participated in the construction of the old Navajo Bridge on AZ 89A in the 1920's.
https://maps.goog...amp;z=17
Mimath224
1 / 5 (11) Nov 26, 2013
Say Zephir_fan I notice you are keen on 'Nicky'...you didn't by any chance write inside that canyon in black 'Ni' did you?.
At least that's what it looks like on zoomimg the picture. Just a coincidence eh? ha ha
Zephir_fan
Nov 26, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
GSwift7
2 / 5 (4) Nov 26, 2013
Eh, I'm not impressed. This isn't based on any evidense. It is just a computer model based on a hypothetical scenario. Mars may not have ever had such a hydrogen-rich atmosphere, which makes the whole theory moot.

We will one day put boots on the ground there, and in-situ examination will reveal a lot of things we don't know about Mars today. The Maven probe, currently enroute to Mars, will help fill in some missing pieces, but it sure would be cool to drill core samples all over Mars, and get samples from under the north polar cap.
obama_socks
1 / 5 (12) Nov 28, 2013
It will have to drill down at least a meter to find anything worthwhile, like liquid H2O or microbes. GhostofOtto and his sockpuppet has spoken numerous times about 800 foot martians. OttoBlotto knows all about them martians. LOL
barakn
not rated yet Nov 28, 2013
And travels another whole km before frittering away, point still stands.
The frittering away occurring because the entire area consists of a flat sheet of very hard, durable material. Notice the hills to the southwest and the general trend of the drainages to stream northeast from there. The hills allow for the loading of a large amount of water during monsoon rainstorms, leading to flash flooding that overwhelms the low relief of the flat area. Also take note that much of the drainage network's shape in the flat area derives it's shape from prior to the creation of the canyon or prior to the current size of the canyon, meaning the catchment area of the two "side canyons" you've pointed out were much larger in the past. Your point has no legs to stand on because of your obvious inability to analyze the current situation and extrapolate to the past without invoking your own magic "theory."
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
not rated yet Nov 30, 2013
Ouch. What is it with other planets surfaces that makes the crackpots assemble around their quack pot?

Naturally, such claims made without evidence can be rejected without evidence.

@Birger: Correct, the estimated time for when liquid water was present is a mere 200 million years in other work (~ 3.8 - 3.6 Ga bp). It just happens to be the period when the Tarsis bulge volcanoes let go and build up such a dense and GW atmosphere, and which Curiosity is investigating because of judicious choice of liquid water signs.

Other gases Mars will keep better, and if terraformed can keep such an atmosphere for ~ 1 billion years.