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Geology and insolation-driven climatic history of Amazonian north polar materials on Mars


Mariner 9 and Viking spacecraft images revealed that the polar regions of Mars, like those of Earth, record the planet's climate history. However, fundamental uncertainties regarding the materials, features, ages and processes constituting the geologic record remained1,2,3,4,5,6. Recently acquired Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter data7 and Mars Orbiter Camera high-resolution images8 from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft and moderately high-resolution Thermal Emission Imaging System visible images9 from the Mars Odyssey spacecraft permit more comprehensive geologic and climatic analyses10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17. Here I map and show the history of geologic materials and features in the north polar region that span the Amazonian period (3.0 Gyr ago to present)18,19. Erosion and redeposition of putative circumpolar mud volcano deposits15 (formed by eruption of liquefied, fine-grained material) led to the formation of an Early Amazonian polar plateau consisting of dark layered materials. Crater ejecta superposed on pedestals indicate that a thin mantle was present during most of the Amazonian, suggesting generally higher obliquity and insolation conditions at the poles than at present. Brighter polar layered deposits rest unconformably on the dark layers and formed mainly during lower obliquity over the past 4–5 Myr (ref. 20). Finally, the uppermost layers post-date the latest downtrend in obliquity <20,000 years ago20.

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Figure 1: Amazonian geology of the north polar region of Mars.
Figure 2: Early Amazonian north polar features on Mars.
Figure 3: Geologic characteristics of north polar lower layered deposits (LLD) of Planum Boreum.


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I acknowledge discussions and other assistance from S. Byrne, K. Fishbaugh, E. Kolb, K. Herkenhoff, A. Rodriguez, J. Skinner and T. Hare. This work was supported by NASA.

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Correspondence to Kenneth L. Tanaka.

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Tanaka, K. Geology and insolation-driven climatic history of Amazonian north polar materials on Mars. Nature 437, 991–994 (2005).

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