Flash floods in Mangala Valles via Mars Express orbiter

October 15, 2015, European Space Agency
Mangala Valles

Catastrophic flooding triggered by ice melting from the heat of volcanic activity is thought to be responsible for the chaotic scenery depicted in this region of the Mangala Valles channel network.

The images were taken by the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA's Mars Express on 12 July just to the south of the mouth of Minio Vallis. The region is part of the Mangala Valles outflow channel system, and is situated in the southwestern portion of the Tharsis bulge, home to several volcanoes, including the Solar System's largest: Olympus Mons.

The region's proximity to these volcanic giants likely played an important role in creating the channels seen in these images, which were carved by large volumes of flowing water.

The source of the water is believed to be related to the formation of the Mangala Fossae, an east–west fault system spanning several hundreds of kilometres to the south of the region seen here.

There, hot, molten rock could have reached the surface in an episode of increased during the formation of the Tharsis bulge.

This activity may have triggered the melting of subsurface ice, and consequently the formation of the water-carved channels.

Several basins and impact craters were also filled with water, with overflows flushing through multiple spillways and towards Amazonis Planitia, the lowlands to the north. For example, a channel drains into the 28 km-wide impact crater in the upper right of the main image, breaching its crater wall.

Mangala Valles in context

The crater in the centre of the image has a somewhat different appearance: it was filled with water and sediments and later eroded back again. 'Chaotic terrain' formed around it, characterised by isolated blocks of surface material that have been chaotically arranged during the release of subsurface water and subsequent surface collapse.

Another example of an infilled and eroded crater lies to the southeast (bottom left in the main image) of this crater.

The chaotic terrain suggests this region may also have had subsurface ice, which experienced multiple episodes of melting and flooding.

This oblique perspective view shows an eroded crater in Mangala Valles region of Mars. The crater was filled with water and sediments during an intense period of flooding and later eroded. Chaotic terrain subsequently formed around it, characterised by isolated blocks of surface material that have been chaotically arranged during the release of subsurface water and subsequent surface collapse. Details of the surrounding channels carved by flowing water are also seen. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

A deep channel carves through the landscape along the bottom edge of the image, its inner walls displaying layers, terraces and streamlined islands eroded by the outflowing water.

Mangala Valles is estimated to have been created during the Hesperian epoch about 3.5 billion years ago, with episodes of both volcanic and flooding activity likely continuing into the Amazonian age, perhaps as recently as a few hundred million years ago.

The colour-coded topographic view shows relative heights and depths of terrain in the Mangala Valles region Mars. Red/white represents the highest terrain, and blues and purples show lower terrain. ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Explore further: Beauty from chaos on Mars

Related Stories

Beauty from chaos on Mars

April 10, 2014

Beautiful streamlined islands and narrow gorges were carved by fast-flowing water pounding through a small, plateau region near the southeastern margin of the vast Vallis Marineris canyon system.

The floodwaters of Mars

June 7, 2013

(Phys.org) —Dramatic flood events carved this impressive channel system on Mars covering 1.55 million square kilometres, shown here in a stunning new mosaic from ESA's Mars Express.

Water in a Martian desert

August 2, 2013

Craters once brim-full with sediments and water have long since drained dry, but traces of their former lives as muddy lakes cling on in the Martian desert.

Cutting through Martian history

July 9, 2015

This colourful image resembles an abstract watercolour, but it is in fact a colour-coded topographic map of one of the most geologically diverse regions on Mars.

Recommended for you

Apple pivot led by star-packed video service

March 25, 2019

With Hollywood stars galore, Apple unveiled its streaming video plans Monday along with news and game subscription offerings as part of an effort to shift its focus to digital content and services to break free of its reliance ...

How tree diversity regulates invading forest pests

March 25, 2019

A national-scale study of U.S. forests found strong relationships between the diversity of native tree species and the number of nonnative pests that pose economic and ecological threats to the nation's forests.

Scientists solve mystery shrouding oldest animal fossils

March 25, 2019

Scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) have discovered that 558 million-year-old Dickinsonia fossils do not reveal all of the features of the earliest known animals, which potentially had mouths and guts.

Earth's deep mantle flows dynamically

March 25, 2019

As ancient ocean floors plunge over 1,000 km into the Earth's deep interior, they cause hot rock in the lower mantle to flow much more dynamically than previously thought, finds a new UCL-led study.


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.