Floods Shaped Mars’ Surface
December 5, 2022
On Earth, river erosion is usually a slow-going process. But on Mars, massive floods from overflowing crater lakes had an outsized role in shaping the Martian surface, carving deep chasms and moving vast amounts of sediment, according to a new study led by researchers at the Jackson School of Geosciences.
The study, published in Nature and funded by NASA, found that the floods, which probably lasted mere weeks, eroded more than enough sediment to completely fill Lake Superior and Lake Ontario.
“If we think about how sediment was being moved across the landscape on ancient Mars, lake breach floods were a really important process globally,” said lead author Tim Goudge, an assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences. “And this is a bit of a surprising result because they’ve been thought of as one-off anomalies for so long.”
Remote sensing images taken by satellites orbiting Mars have allowed scientists to study the remains of breached Martian crater lakes. However, the crater lakes and their river valleys have mostly been studied on an individual basis, Goudge said. This is the first study to investigate how the 262 breached lakes across the red planet shaped the Martian surface as a whole.
The research entailed reviewing a preexisting catalog of river valleys on Mars and classifying the valleys into two categories: valleys that got their start at a crater’s edge, which indicates they formed during a lake breach flood, and valleys that formed elsewhere on the landscape, which suggests a more gradual formation over time.
From there, the scientists compared the depth, length and volume of the different valley types and found that river valleys formed by crater lake breaches punch far above their weight, eroding away nearly a quarter of the red planet’s river valley volume despite making up only 3% of total valley length.Back to the Newsletter