Letter | Published:

Timing of oceans on Mars from shoreline deformation

Nature volume 555, pages 643646 (29 March 2018) | Download Citation

Abstract

Widespread evidence points to the existence of an ancient Martian ocean1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Most compelling are the putative ancient shorelines in the northern plains2,7. However, these shorelines fail to follow an equipotential surface, and this has been used to challenge the notion that they formed via an early ocean9 and hence to question the existence of such an ocean. The shorelines’ deviation from a constant elevation can be explained by true polar wander occurring after the formation of Tharsis10, a volcanic province that dominates the gravity and topography of Mars. However, surface loading from the oceans can drive polar wander only if Tharsis formed far from the equator10, and most evidence indicates that Tharsis formed near the equator11,12,13,14,15, meaning that there is no current explanation for the shorelines’ deviation from an equipotential that is consistent with our geophysical understanding of Mars. Here we show that variations in shoreline topography can be explained by deformation caused by the emplacement of Tharsis. We find that the shorelines must have formed before and during the emplacement of Tharsis, instead of afterwards, as previously assumed. Our results imply that oceans on Mars formed early, concurrent with the valley networks15, and point to a close relationship between the evolution of oceans on Mars and the initiation and decline of Tharsis volcanism, with broad implications for the geology, hydrological cycle and climate of early Mars.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. T. Perron for providing the data for the Arabia shoreline (originally from ref. 7), and M. A. Ivanov for providing the data for the Deuteronilus and Isidis shorelines. We thank I. Matsuyama for discussions regarding this research. R.I.C. and M.M. are supported by NSF EAR-1135382. D.J.H. is supported by the Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Earth and Planetary Science, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA

    • Robert I. Citron
    • , Michael Manga
    •  & Douglas J. Hemingway
  2. Center for Integrative Planetary Science, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA

    • Robert I. Citron
    • , Michael Manga
    •  & Douglas J. Hemingway

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Contributions

All authors discussed the research idea, methods and interpretation of results. R.I.C. and M.M. developed the hypothesis with input from D.J.H. R.I.C. performed the calculations and wrote the manuscript, with guidance, comments, and revisions from M.M. and D.J.H.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robert I. Citron.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks S. Bouley and M. Zuber for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data

Supplementary information

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains the gravity and shape coefficients for Tharsis used in the analysis

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature26144

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