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Water and the martian landscape

Abstract

Over the past 30 years, the water-generated landforms and landscapes of Mars have been revealed in increasing detail by a succession of spacecraft missions. Recent data from the Mars Global Surveyor mission confirm the view that brief episodes of water-related activity, including glaciation, punctuated the geological history of Mars. The most recent of these episodes seems to have occurred within the past 10 million years. These new results are anomalous in regard to the prevailing view that the martian surface has been continuously extremely cold and dry, much as it is today, for the past 3.9 billion years. Interpretations of the new data are controversial, but explaining the anomalies in a consistent manner leads to potentially fruitful hypotheses for understanding the evolution of Mars in relation to Earth.

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Figure 1: Glaciated terrain east of Hellas Planitia, at latitude 42° S, longitude 252° W.
Figure 2: High-resolution Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) image of a fluvial channel system at latitude 7.9° N, longitude 205.8° W, south of Cerberus Rupes (MOC Image M21-01914).
Figure 3: Large contraction-crack polygons developed on the floor of a northern-plains crater at approximately 67.5° N, 312.5° W (MOC Image M01-00294).
Figure 4: Oblique view of topographic data from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) showing downstream portions of the outflow channel Kasei Vallis.
Figure 5: Comparison of simplified channel cross-sections for cataclysmic flood channels on Mars (upper two channels) and Earth (lower channels).
Figure 6: MOC image (M09-04718) of small gullies and other hillslope features in the central peak area of Hale Crater (latitude 36° S, longitude 37° W).
Figure 7: Morphogenetic regions for climate-related landforms on Earth91.
Figure 8: Esker-like ridges in southern Argyre Planitia (latitude 56° S, longitude 40° W).
Figure 9: Portion of MOC Image MOO-01511 showing detail of esker-like ridge in southern Argyre Planitia (Fig. 8).

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Acknowledgements

I thank many colleagues for comments and discussion useful to this review, including R. C. Anderson, D. Burr, N. Cabrol, F. M. Costard, J. M. Dohm, J. C. Ferris, E. Grin, V. C. Gulick, T. M. Hare, W. K. Hartmann, J. S. Kargel, G. Komatsu, A. S. McEwen, G. G. Ori, J. W. Rice Jr, R. G. Strom, K. L. Tanaka and J. R. Zimbelman. The entire manuscript was reviewed by J. W. Head III and by D. E. Sugden. NASA provided partial support for the research.

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Baker, V. Water and the martian landscape. Nature 412, 228–236 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35084172

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