Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

MARSIS radar sounder evidence of buried basins in the northern lowlands of Mars

Abstract

A hemispheric dichotomy on Mars is marked by the sharp contrast between the sparsely cratered northern lowland plains and the heavily cratered southern highlands. Mechanisms proposed to remove ancient crust or form younger lowland crust include one or more giant impacts, subcrustal transport by mantle convection, the generation of thinner crust by plate tectonics, and mantle overturn following solidification of an early magma ocean1,2,3,4,5,6,7. The age of the northern lowland crust is a significant constraint on these models. The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft is providing new constraints on the martian subsurface8. Here we show evidence of buried impact basins ranging in diameter from about 130 km to 470 km found over 14 per cent of the northern lowlands. The number of detected buried basins >200 km in diameter indicates that the lowland crust is ancient, dating back to the Early Noachian epoch. This crater density is a lower limit because of the likelihood that not all buried basins in the area surveyed by MARSIS have been detected. An Early Noachian age for the lowland crust has been previously suggested on the basis of a large number of quasi-circular topographic depressions interpreted to be evidence of buried basins9,10,11. Only a few of these depressions in the area surveyed by MARSIS, however, correlate with the detected subsurface echoes. On the basis of the MARSIS data, we conclude that the northern lowland crust is at least as old as the oldest exposed highland crust. This suggests that the crustal dichotomy formed early in the geologic evolution of Mars.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: MARSIS surface clutter simulation of the Kepler basin.
Figure 2: Radargrams and ground-range projections of MARSIS data in Chryse Planitia.
Figure 3: Radargrams and ground-range projections of MARSIS data in Amazonis Planitia.
Figure 4: Locations of MARSIS buried basins.

References

  1. 1

    Wilhelms, D. E. & Squyres, S. W. The martian hemispheric dichotomy may be due to a giant impact. Nature 309, 138–140 (1984)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    McGill, G. E. Buried topography of Utopia, Mars: Persistence of a giant impact depression. J. Geophys. Res. 94, 2753–2759 (1989)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Frey, H. & Schultz, R. A. Large impact basins and the mega-impact origin for the crustal dichotomy on Mars. Geophys. Res. Lett. 15, 229–232 (1988)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Wise, D. U., Golombek, M. P. & McGill, G. E. Tharsis province of Mars: Geologic sequence, geometry and a deformation mechanism. Icarus 38, 456–472 (1979)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    McGill, G. E. & Dimitriou, A. M. Origin of the martian global dichotomy by crustal thinning in the late Noachian or early Hesperian. J. Geophys. Res. 95, 12595–12605 (1990)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Sleep, N. H. Martian plate tectonics. J. Geophys. Res. 99, 5639–5656 (1994)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Elkins-Tanton, L. T., Parmentier, E. M. & Hess, P. C. The formation of ancient crust on Mars through magma ocean processes. J. Geophys. Res. 110 E12S01 doi: 10.1029/2005JE002480 (2005)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Picardi, G. et al. Radar soundings of the subsurface of Mars. Science 310, 1925–1928 (2005)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Frey, H. V., Roark, J. H., Shockey, K. M., Frey, E. L. & Sakimoto, S. E. H. Ancient lowlands on Mars. Geophys. Res. Lett. 29 doi: 10.1029/2001GL013832 (2002)

  10. 10

    Frey, H. V. Impact constraints on the age of origin of the lowlands of Mars. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33 doi: 10.1029/2005GL024484 (2006)

  11. 11

    Frey, H. V. Impact constraints on, and a chronology for, major events in early Mars history. J. Geophys. Res. 111 doi: 10.1029/2005JE002449 (2006)

  12. 12

    Scott, D. H. & Tanaka, K. L. Geologic map of the western equatorial region of Mars, scale 1:15,000,000. US Geol. Surv. Misc. Invest. Ser. Map I-1802-A, (1986)

  13. 13

    Greeley, R. & Guest, J. E. Geologic map of the eastern equatorial region of Mars, scale 1:15,000,000. US Geol. Surv. Misc. Invest. Ser. Map I-1802-B, (1987)

  14. 14

    Tanaka, K. L. & Scott, D. H. Geologic maps of the polar regions of Mars, scale 1:15,000,000. US Geol. Surv. Misc. Invest. Ser. Map. I-1802-C, (1987)

  15. 15

    Solomon, S. C. et al. New perspectives on ancient Mars. Science 307, 1214–1220 (2005)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Lenardic, A., Nimmo, F. & Moresi, L. Growth of the hemispheric dichotomy and the cessation of plate tectonics on Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 109 E02003 doi: 10.1029/2003JE002172 (2004)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Zhong, S. & Zuber, M. T. Degree-1 mantle convection and the crustal dichotomy on Mars. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 189, 75–84 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Roberts, J. H. & Zhong, S. Degree-1 convection in the Martian mantle and the origin of the hemispheric dichotomy. J. Geophys. Res. 111 doi: 10.1029/2005JE002668 (2006)

  19. 19

    Head, J. W., Kreslavsky, M. A. & Pratt, S. Northern lowlands of Mars: Evidence for widespread volcanic flooding and tectonic deformation in the Hesperian Period. J. Geophys. Res. 107 doi: 10.1029/2000JE001445 (2002)

  20. 20

    Zuber, M. T. The crust and mantle of Mars. Nature 412, 220–227 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Tanaka, K. L. et al. Resurfacing history of the northern plains of Mars based on geologic mapping of Mars Global Surveyor data. J. Geophys. Res. 108 (E4)doi: 10.1029/2002JE001908 (2003)

  22. 22

    Tanaka, K. L. et al. Geologic map of the northern plains of Mars. US Geol. Surv. Misc. Invest. Ser. Map I-2888, (2005)

  23. 23

    Kreslavsky, M. A. & Head, J. W. The 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 (E12)5121 doi: 10.1029/2001JE001831 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Mustard, J. F. et al. Olivine and pyroxene diversity in the crust of Mars. Science 307, 1594–1597 (2005)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Melosh, H. J. Impact Cratering: A Geologic Process (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1989)

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Tanaka, K. L. The stratigraphy of Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 91, E139–E158 (1986)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank J. W. Head and D. D. Blankenship for constructive criticism and advice that greatly improved the paper. We also thank H. V. Frey for providing the locations and diameters of the QCDs. We are grateful to the other members of the MARSIS Science team and to the instrument operation staff. MARSIS is managed by the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The Mars Express mission is managed and operated by the European Space Agency. The research activities of the MARSIS PI and Italian investigators were supported by the Mars Express/ASI programme; the work of the US investigators was supported by the Mars Express/NASA project.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Thomas R. Watters.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Notes with supporting Supplementary Figures discussing MARSIS antenna and instrument operations, buried basins in Chyrse Planitia, Acidilia, Amazonia, Elyisum and Utopia Planitiea, estimate of MARSIS coverage of the northern lowlands and the Supplementary Figure S1. (PDF 764 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Watters, T., Leuschen, C., Plaut, J. et al. MARSIS radar sounder evidence of buried basins in the northern lowlands of Mars. Nature 444, 905–908 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05356

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing