Fluvial landforms on fresh impact ejecta on Mars

Research areas:
Year:
2012
Authors:
Journal:
PLANETARY AND SPACE SCIENCE
Volume:
62
Number:
1
Pages:
69-85
Month:
March
ISSN:
0032-0633
Abstract:
Fluvial valleys provide critical clues to the distribution and state of water throughout the history of the planet Mars. Early in Mars' history ( <3.7 Gy), the climate may have been warmer than at present leading to the development of valley networks. Younger valleys formed on volcanic and glacial landforms under colder conditions than experienced in Mars' early history. Only rare examples of fluvial valleys over fresh impact craters have been reported. In the present study, a survey of hundreds of fresh post-Noachian impact craters (of 12 to 150 km in diameter) has been done to identify fluvial landforms, especially in regions lacking ancient valleys, using images from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) instrument onboard Mars Express and from the Context Camera (CTX) instrument onboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Observations show that these valleys are locally sinuous, display isolated channels, a poor connectivity and frequent braiding. Valleys were most likely formed over a short duration with high discharge rates, estimated from 500 to 40,000 m(3) s(-1). In Arabia Terra, a total of 27 out of the 204 surveyed craters were found to have fluvial landforms on the ejecta blanket, exclusively in the mid-latitude band (25-45 degrees). Dating of impact ejecta gives young ages from the late Hesperian to the Middle Amazonian, thus providing a temporal constraint for the fluvial activity. Late climatic episodes of snow deposition and subsequent melting scattered in space and time could explain observations. Alternatively, the thermal anomaly of impacts and their ejecta over ice-bearing terrains is a possible triggering mechanism for the observed fluvial valleys. Calculations show that the thermal anomaly can persist in the ejecta over several hundreds of years for mid-size craters (20-40 km). Such a process would not explain all Martian fluvial activity because of the marked difference between the pristine landforms described and Late Noachian valley networks. Nevertheless, fluvial landforms on preserved ejecta blankets can be used as a new proxy for the temporal distribution of water on Mars. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.