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Recent and episodic volcanic and glacial activity on Mars revealed by the High Resolution Stereo Camera


The large-area coverage at a resolution of 10–20 metres per pixel in colour and three dimensions with the High Resolution Stereo Camera Experiment on the European Space Agency Mars Express Mission has made it possible to study the time-stratigraphic relationships of volcanic and glacial structures in unprecedented detail and give insight into the geological evolution of Mars. Here we show that calderas on five major volcanoes on Mars have undergone repeated activation and resurfacing during the last 20 per cent of martian history, with phases of activity as young as two million years, suggesting that the volcanoes are potentially still active today. Glacial deposits at the base of the Olympus Mons escarpment show evidence for repeated phases of activity as recently as about four million years ago. Morphological evidence is found that snow and ice deposition on the Olympus construct at elevations of more than 7,000 metres led to episodes of glacial activity at this height. Even now, water ice protected by an insulating layer of dust may be present at high altitudes on Olympus Mons.

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We thank U. Wolf for help with the crater size-frequency distribution measurements and age evaluation, as well as W. Zuschneid and O. Fabel for their technical assistance and T. Denk for support in the colour data reduction effort. We also thank the ESTEC and ESOC staff, and the DLR Experiment and Operations team, especially T. Roatsch, K.-D. Matz, V. Mertens, J. Flohrer, F. Scholten, and K. Gwinner. J. Korteniemi, M. Aittola, P. Kostama and D. Williams helped with the image planning. This work forms part of the HRSC Experiment of the ESA Mars Express Mission and has been supported by the German Space Agency (DLR) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Part of the data evaluation is supported by a grant from the German Science Foundation (DFG) within the scope of the priority programme ‘Mars and the Terrestrial Planets’.

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Correspondence to G. Neukum.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

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A list of all members of the HRSC Co-Investigator team and their affiliations appears at the end of the paper.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Table 1

Measured crater frequencies and derived absolute ages for Martian geologic units. (DOC 28 kb)

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Further reading

Figure 1: Investigated volcanic calderas.
Figure 2: Hecates Tholus counting-area.
Figure 3: Olympus Mons western scarp areas.
Figure 4: Ice–dust deposits and glaciers on Olympus Mons.
Figure 5: Base map (panels ae) and crater statistics (four panels at bottom) of the areas on the northwestern part of Olympus Mons investigated for possible ice–dust coverage and age relationships.


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