It is thought that the Cerberus Fossae fissures on Mars were the source of both lava and water floods1,2,3,4 two to ten million years ago1,2,5. Evidence for the resulting lava plains has been identified in eastern Elysium1,2,4,6,7,8, but seas and lakes from these fissures and previous water flooding events were presumed to have evaporated and sublimed away9,10,11. Here we present High Resolution Stereo Camera images from the European Space Agency Mars Express spacecraft that indicate that such lakes may still exist. We infer that the evidence is consistent with a frozen body of water, with surface pack-ice, around 5° north latitude and 150° east longitude in southern Elysium. The frozen lake measures about 800 × 900 km in lateral extent and may be up to 45 metres deep—similar in size and depth to the North Sea. From crater counts, we determined its age to be 5 ± 2 million years old. If our interpretation is confirmed, this is a place that might preserve evidence of primitive life, if it has ever developed on Mars.
Access optionsAccess options
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Berman, D. C. & Hartmann, W. K. Recent fluvial, volcanic and tectonic activity on the Cerberus Plains of Mars. Icarus 159, 1–17 (2002)
Burr, D. M., Grier, J. A., McEwen, A. S. & Keszthleyi, L. P. Repeated aqueous flooding from the Cerberus Fossae: Evidence for very recently extant, deep groundwater on Mars. Icarus 159, 53–73 (2002)
Head, J. W. III, Wilson, L. & Mitchell, K. L. Generation of recent massive water floods at Cerberus Fossae, Mars, by dike emplacement, cryospheric cracking, and confined aquifer groundwater release. Geophys. Res. Lett. 30, 1577, doi:10.1029/2003GL017135 (2003)
Plescia, J. B. Cerberus Fossae, Elysium, Mars: a source for lava and water. Icarus 164, 79–95 (2003)
Werner, S. C., van Gasselt, S. & Neukum, G. Continual geological activity in Athabasca Valles Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 108, E12, 8081, doi:10. 1029/2002JE002020 (2003)
Keszthelyi, L., McEwen, A. S. & Thordarson, T. Terrestrial analogs and thermal models for Martian flood lavas. J. Geophys. Res. 105, 15027–15049 (2000)
Fuller, E. R. & Head, J. W. III Amazonis Planitia: the role of geologically recent volcanism and sedimentation in the formation of the smoothest plains on Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 107, 5081, doi:10.1029/2002JE001842 (2002)
Lanagan, P. D. & McEwen, A. S. Cerberus Plains volcanism: constraints on temporal emplacement of the youngest flood lavas on Mars. 6th Int. Conf. on Mars abstr. 3215 (2003); http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/sixthmars2003/pdf/3215.pdf.
Carr, M. H. Stability of Martian streams and lakes. Icarus 56, 476–495 (1983)
Kreslavsky, M. A. & Head, J. W. III Fate of outflow channel effluents in the northern lowlands of Mars: the Vastitas Borealis formation as a sublimation residue from frozen ponded bodies of water. J. Geophys. Res. 107, 5121, doi:10.1029/2001JE001831 (2001)
Carr, M. H. & Head, J. W. III Oceans on Mars: an assessment of the observational evidence and possible fate. J. Geophys. Res. 108, 5042, doi:10.1029/2002JE001963 (2003)
Hartmann, W. K. & Neukum, G. Cratering chronology and the evolution of Mars. Space Sci. Rev. 96, 165–194 (2001)
Neukum, G. et al. Recent and episodic volcanic and glacial activity on Mars revealed by the High Resolution Stereo Camera. Nature 432, 971–979 (2004)
Patrick, M. R., Dehn, J. & Dean, K. Numerical modelling of lava flow cooling applied to the 1997 Okmok eruption: approach and analysis. J. Geophys. Res. 109, B03202, doi:10.1029/2003JB002537 (2004)
Skinner, B. J. Thermal expansion. In Handbook Of Physical Constants (ed. Clark, S. P.) Geol. Soc. Am. Mem. 97, 75–96 (1966).
Garvin, J. B., Sakimoto S. E. H. & Frawley, J. J. Craters on Mars: global geometric properties from gridded MOLA topography. Sixth Int. Conf. on Mars abstr. 3277 (2003); http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/sixthmars2003/pdf/3277.pdf.
Rice, J. W., Parker, T. J., Russel, A. J. & Knudsen, O. Morphology of fresh outflow channel deposits on Mars. Lunar Planet. Sci. XXXIII abstr. 2026 [CD-Rom] (Lunar & Planetary Institute, Houston, Texas, 2002).
Baker, V. R. et al. in Mars (eds Kieffer, H. H., Jakosky, B. M., Snyder, C. W. & Matthews, M. S.) 493–522 (Univ. Arizona Press, Tucson, 1992)
Wallace, D. & Sagan, C. Evaporation of ice in planetary atmospheres: ice-covered rivers on Mars. Icarus 39, 476–495 (1983)
Clifford, S. M. A model for the hydrologic and climatic behavior of water on Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 98, 10973–11016 (1993)
Clifford, S. M. & Parker, T. J. The evolution of the Martian hydrosphere: implications for the fate of a primordial ocean and the current state of the northern plains. Icarus 154, 40–79 (2001)
Carr, M. H. D/H on Mars: effects of floods, volcanism, impacts and polar processes. Icarus 87, 210–227 (1990)
Skorov, Y. V., Markiewicz, W. J., Basilevsky, A. T. & Keller, H. U. Stability of water ice under a porous nonvolatile layer: implications for the south polar layered deposits of Mars. Planet. Space Sci. 49(1), 59–63 (2001)
Laskar, J. & Robutel, L. The chaotic obliquity of the planets. Nature 361, 608–612 (1993)
Laskar, J., Gastineau, M., Joutel, F., Levrard, B. & Robutel, P. A new astronomical solution for the long term evolution of the insolation quantities of Mars. Lunar Planet. Sci. XXXV abstr. 1600 (2004).
Haberle, R. M., Murphy, J. R. & Schaeffer, J. Orbital change experiments with a Mars general circulation model. Icarus 161, 66–89 (2003)
Humphris, S. E., Zierenberg, R. A., Mullineaux, L. S. & Thomson, R. E. (eds) Seafloor Hydrothermal Systems 1–466 (AGU Geophys. Monogr. 91, American Geophysical Union, Washington, DC, 1995)
Greenberg, R., Geissler, P., Tufts, B. R. & Hoppa, G. V. Habitability of Europa's crust: The role of tidal-tectonic processes. J. Geophys. Res. 105, 17551–17562 (2000)
We thank M. Wählisch for assistance in the MOLA processing and S. Clifford and N. A. Cabrol for criticism that greatly improved the paper.
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
A list of all members of The HRSC Co-Investigator Team and their affiliations appears at the end of the paper
About this article
Olivine-hosted melt inclusions in Pliocene–Quaternary lavas from the Qorveh–Bijar volcanic belt, western Iran: implications for source lithology and cooling history
International Geology Review (2019)
Earth and Planetary Science Letters (2018)
Meteoritics & Planetary Science (2018)
Equatorial locations of water on Mars: Improved resolution maps based on Mars Odyssey Neutron Spectrometer data
Microbial activity in Martian analog soils after ionizing radiation: implications for the preservation of subsurface life on Mars
AIMS Microbiology (2018)