Mars has belts of glaciers consisting of frozen water

April 7, 2015
Mars distinct polar ice caps, but Mars also has belts of glaciers at its central latitudes – between the blue lines, in both the southern and northern hemispheres. A thick layer of dust covers the glaciers, so they appear as the surface of the ground, but radar measurements show that there are glaciers composed of frozen water underneath the dust. Credit: Mars Digital Image Model, NASA/Nanna Karlsson

Mars has distinct polar ice caps, but Mars also has belts of glaciers at its central latitudes in both the southern and northern hemispheres. A thick layer of dust covers the glaciers, so they appear as surface of the ground, but radar measurements show that underneath the dust there are glaciers composed of frozen water. New studies have now calculated the size of the glaciers and thus the amount of water in the glaciers. It is the equivalent of all of Mars being covered by more than one meter of ice. The results are published in the scientific journal, Geophysical Research Letters.

Several satellites orbit Mars and on satellite images, researchers have been able to observe the shape of just below the surface. For a long time scientists did not know if the ice was made of (H2O) or of carbon dioxide (CO2) or whether it was mud.

Using radar measurements from the NASA satellite, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers have been able to determine that is . But how thick was the ice and do they resemble glaciers on Earth?

A group of researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute have now calculated this using radar observations combined with ice flow modelling.

Data combined with modelling

"We have looked at spanning ten years back in time to see how thick the ice is and how it behaves. A glacier is after all a big chunk of ice and it flows and gets a form that tells us something about how soft it is. We then compared this with how glaciers on Earth behave and from that we have been able to make models for the ice flow," explains Nanna Bjørnholt Karlsson, a postdoc at the Centre for Ice and Climate at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

Using radar measurements from the NASA satellite, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers have been able to identify thousands of glacier-like formations on Mars. They can see how thick the ice is on the radar images. Credit: SHARAD, NASA/Karlsson et.al.

Nanna Bjørnholt Karlsson explains that earlier studies have identified thousands of glacier-like formations on the planet. The glaciers are located in belts around Mars between the latitudes 30.0-50.0 – equivalent to just south of Denmark's location on Earth. The glaiciers are found on both the northern and southern hemispheres.

From some locations on Mars they have good detailed high-resolution data, while they only have more sparse data from other areas. But by supplementing the sparse data with information about the flow and form of the glaciers from the very well studied areas, they have been able to calculate how thick and voluminous the ice is across the glacier belts.

Could cover the entire planet

The image from the High Resolution Stereo Camera shows that a thick layer of dust covers the glaciers, so they appear as the surface of the ground, but radar measurements show that there are glaciers composed of frozen water underneath the dust. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

"We have calculated that the ice in the glaciers is equivalent to over 150 billion cubic meters of ice – that much ice could cover the entire surface of Mars with 1.1 meters of ice. The ice at the mid-latitudes is therefore an important part of Mars' water reservoir," explains Nanna Bjørnholt Karlsson.

That the ice has not evaporated out into space could actually mean that the thick layer of dust is protecting the ice. The atmospheric pressure on Mars is so low that water simply evaporates and becomes water vapour. But the glaciers are well protected under the thick layer of dust.

Explore further: Distinctive sounds announce iceberg births

More information: Sime, L. C., Karlsson, N. B., Paden, J. D., & Prasad Gogineni, S. (2014). Isochronous information in a Greenland ice sheet radio echo sounding data set. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41(5), 1593–1599. DOI: 10.1002/2013gl057928

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Returners
1.6 / 5 (8) Apr 07, 2015
That's only about 1/1000th the volume of the Gulf of Mexico.

How much do the polar glaciers and ice caps add up to?

Needs Nitrogen. That's all. Nitrogen.
fmfbrestel
not rated yet Apr 07, 2015
Awesome. Lets divert some ammonia rich asteroids into mars, and get the terraforming started!
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.6 / 5 (9) Apr 07, 2015
Returners has been incognito (comatose?) and so missed the article a week or 2 ago about nitrates on Mars. There is enough N2 on Mars to support vast underground colonies complete with farming, indefinitely.

No siphon runs to Titan are necessary. N2, like H2O and hydrocarbons, are common throughout the solar system. It would be very strange if we did not find these things on mars, or on our moon.
OttJ
5 / 5 (5) Apr 07, 2015
There is an asteroid orbiting barely 6000 km above the surface. This moon is going to crash anyway, so why don't we give it a push? That would be a 14 mile diameter asteroid that could help the heating process at least.
verkle
Apr 07, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Shootist
not rated yet Apr 07, 2015
Awesome. Lets divert some ammonia rich asteroids into mars, and get the terraforming started!


Any asteroid or comet. Building an atmosphere is as critical as the chemistry.
RealScience
5 / 5 (6) Apr 07, 2015
Note: The 'billion' used in the article is the 10^12 kind of billion (called a trillion in the U.S. and some other countries) rather than the 10^9 kind of billion.

The surface area of Mars is a bit less than ~150 million square kilometers = 150 x 10^12 square meters, so ~150 x 10^12 cubic meters of ice would indeed cover Mars in roughly a meter of ice.

The southern ice cap has about 10 times this much ice.
FainAvis
not rated yet Apr 08, 2015
Whoever heard of a latitude 300 to 500?
ROBTHEGOB
not rated yet Apr 08, 2015
It must be well covered to have avoided evaporation to space. The dust is probably very thick.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Apr 08, 2015
Awesome. Lets divert some ammonia rich asteroids into mars, and get the terraforming started!

Hate to tell you this: but you're a few centuries early with that idea.

There is an asteroid orbiting barely 6000 km above the surface. This moon is going to crash anyway, so why don't we give it a push?

Hate to tell you this: but you're a few centuries early with that idea. (Also what would be the point? That moon is basically made up of trhe same stuff that Mars is made up of)

Whoever heard of a latitude 300 to 500?

Says 30.0 and 50.0 in the article.
emptymalei
not rated yet Apr 08, 2015
wrong link to paper?
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (4) Apr 09, 2015
"The southern ice cap has about 10 times this much ice."

These amounts go into the projection of the early martian ocean, which covered ~ 50 % of the northern hemisphere. (More water is, one can hope, located in the aquifer system that supply some of the recurrent slope lineae saline water streaks.)

@Rob: I don't have time to look at it, the linked article is not what the press release claims to describe, but the dust layer doesn't have to be thick. Phoenix found water ice below ~5 cm of dust IIRC. Martian winds (and especially the dust storms) would cover any exposed ice (say, from a meteorite impact) with that much dust in short time.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (6) Apr 09, 2015
Otto has been revealed as a serial liar, and creator of multiple sock puppets, and admits it.

This is a science forum. How do we dump otto and his ilk?
Arf_Arf_Arf_Arf_Arf_Arf
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 09, 2015
Otto has been revealed as a serial liar, and creator of multiple sock puppets, and admits it.

This is a science forum. How do we dump otto and his ilk?
Arf? AFAIK otto is the epitome of integrity and fair playness. And he feeds me daily. I see no problem here.
AGreatWhopper
1 / 5 (2) Apr 10, 2015
Grace, you're a 40 year old woman. Surely you have better things to do than screw with trolls. And that's also the answer to your question.

Nauseating watching the vermin spy a new spoil.
Returners
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 11, 2015
Returners has been incognito (comatose?) and so missed the article a week or 2 ago about nitrates on Mars. There is enough N2 on Mars to support vast underground colonies complete with farming, indefinitely.

No siphon runs to Titan are necessary. N2, like H2O and hydrocarbons, are common throughout the solar system. It would be very strange if we did not find these things on mars, or on our moon.


Not enough to form a stable atmosphere obviously. You can't live in air-tight buildings forever on a planet because quakes and asteroids screw that idea up.

See actual free N2 doesn't freeze or liquify at Mars temperatures, andtherefore would be a stabilizer to a CO2 rich atmosphere and therefore an eventual O2 rich atmosphere.

Nitrate =/= free N2 atmosphere.

Needs a petaton of N2 atmosphere.
Nik_2213
not rated yet Apr 12, 2015
I vaguely remember seeing predictions for Mars' potential atmosphere when the axial tilt varies based on the *observed* polar caps. IIRC, the out-gassed CO2 followed by water vapour would bring 'Valles Marineris' conditions up to 'Everest Death Zone' (with bottled oxygen), which is quite balmy compared to now...

So, what would all this new-found ice mean ??
Returners
1 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2015
So, what would all this new-found ice mean ??


Easier to sustain a small colony in one of the "Temperate Zones", where Earth-like temperatures (arctic temperatures) are present, instead of kryogenic temperatures.
marko
not rated yet Apr 12, 2015
If you want to melt the water on the Martian surface then perhaps use a microwave beam.

It could possibly be focussed and steered around as required.
big_hairy_jimbo
not rated yet Apr 12, 2015
What am I missing here about all the talk about generating an atmosphere??
The planet doesn't have a strong enough gravitational field, or global magnetic field to hold on to any reasonable atmosphere without the sun blasting it away. Why would we waste the water by generating an atmosphere that would be stripped away again??

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