Regional, not global, processes led to huge Martian floods

September 11, 2015, Planetary Science Institute

Gigantic groundwater outbursts created the largest flood channels in the solar system on Mars, 3.2 billion years ago. For many years it was thought that this was caused by the release of water from a global water table, but research led by J. Alexis P. Rodriguez of the Planetary Science Institute reveals regional deposits of sediment and ice emplaced 450 million years earlier to be the source.

"The flooding is due to regional processes, not global processes," said Rodriguez, a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute and lead author of "Martian outflow channels: How did their source aquifers form, and why did they drain so quickly?" that appears in Nature's Scientific Reports. "Deposition of sediment from rivers and glacial melt filled giant canyons beneath a primordial ocean contained within the planet's northern lowlands. It was the preserved in these canyon sediments that was later released as great floods, the effects of which can be seen today."

The canyons filled, the Martian ocean disappeared, and the surface froze for approximately 450 million years. Then, about 3.2 billion years ago, lava beneath the canyons heated the soil, melted the icy materials, and produced vast systems of subterranean rivers extending hundreds of kilometers. This water erupted onto the now-dry surface in giant floods.

"Our investigation suggests that early Mars sedimentation could have buried and trapped enormous volumes of surface water, perhaps triggering the transition into the frozen world that Mars has been during most of its history," Rodriguez said. "Evidence for ancient environments capable of sustaining Earth-like life forms could be present in subsurface materials that are now exposed."

"Because the process of deposition, freezing, heating and eruption were regional, there may be vast reservoirs of water ice that are still trapped beneath the Martian surface along the boundaries of its ancient northern ocean as well as within the subsurface of other regions of the planet where contemporaneous seas and lakes formed," he said. "This could be critical to the future of human activity on Mars."

Explore further: Tracing the origin of ancient water flows on Mars in the lab

More information: "Martian outflow channels: How did their source aquifers form, and why did they drain so rapidly?" Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 13404 (2015) DOI: 10.1038/srep13404

Related Stories

Signs of extensive groundwater system on Mars

May 20, 2015

In its early years, planet Mars comprised large volumes of groundwater, which regularly flowed to the surface. This is the conclusion reached by Utrecht University's PhD candidate Wouter Marra following observations and scale ...

Recommended for you

Comprehensive model captures entire life cycle of solar flares

January 15, 2019

A team of scientists has, for the first time, used a single, cohesive computer model to simulate the entire life cycle of a solar flare: from the buildup of energy thousands of kilometers below the solar surface, to the emergence ...

Team discovers new way supermassive black holes are 'fed'

January 14, 2019

Supermassive black holes weigh millions to billions times more than our sun and lie at the center of most galaxies. A supermassive black hole several million times the mass of the sun is situated in the heart of our very ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Benni
1.7 / 5 (6) Sep 11, 2015
.....this report brought to you by The Weather Channel.
victoryengineer
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 11, 2015
Nothing more than yet another hypothesis of which there will be more to come. Until we can investigate more thoroughly, and likely with "boots on the ground" we can only speculate with educated guesses.

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.