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.

Transport processes induced by metastable boiling water under Martian surface conditions

This article has been updated

Abstract

Liquid water may exist on the Martian surface today, albeit transiently and in a metastable state under the low atmospheric surface pressure1,2. However, the identification of liquid water on Mars from observed morphological changes is hampered by our limited understanding of how metastable liquids interact with sediments. Here, we present lab experiments in which a block of ice melts and seeps into underlying sediment, and the resulting downslope fluid propagation and sediment transport are tracked. In experiments at Martian surface pressure, we find that pure water boils as it percolates into the sediment, inducing grain saltation and leading to wholesale slope destabilization: a hybrid flow mechanism involving both wet and dry processes. For metastable brines, which are more stable under Martian conditions than pure water, saltation intensity and geomorphological impact are reduced; however, we observed channel formation in some briny flow experiments that may be analogous to morphologies observed on Mars. In contrast, under terrestrial-like experimental conditions, there is little morphological impact of seeping water or brine, which are both stable. We propose that the hybrid flow mechanism operating in our experiments under Martian surface pressure could explain observed Martian surface changes that were originally interpreted as the products of either dry or wet processes.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Final morphologies of the flows produced on a sand thickness of 1–2 mm by the melting of a frozen block.
Figure 2: Impact and evolution of the flow for different pressures and ice compositions.
Figure 3: Interpretative cross-sections detailing the mechanism of liquid water propagation at Martian pressure.
Figure 4: Examples of current surface changes on Mars.

Change history

  • 04 May 2016

    In the version of the Letter originally published, in Fig. 4b, the image number and coordinates were incorrect and the caption should have read 'Slope streaks (HiRISE image: ESP_035028_1685, centre coordinates: 11.5° S, 290.3° E)'. This has been corrected in all versions of the Letter.

References

  1. Hecht, M. H. Metastability of liquid water on Mars. Icarus 156, 373–386 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Grimm, R. E., Harrison, K. P. & Stillman, D. E. Water budgets of Martian recurring slope lineae. Icarus 233, 316–327 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Brass, G. W. Stability of brines on Mars. Icarus 42, 20–28 (1980).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Chevrier, V. F. & Rivera-Valentin, E. G. Formation of recurring slope lineae by liquid brines on present-day Mars. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L21202 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Martinez, G. M. & Renno, N. O. Water and brines on Mars: current evidence and implication for MSL. Space Sci. Rev. 175, 29–51 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Ojha, L. et al. Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars. Nature Geosci. 8, 829–832 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. McEwen, A. S. et al. Seasonal flows on warm Martian slopes. Science 333, 740–743 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. McEwen, A. S. et al. Recurring slope lineae in equatorial regions of Mars. Nature Geosci. 7, 53–58 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Stillman, D. E., Michaels, T. I., Grimm, R. E. & Harrison, K. P. New observations of Martian southern mid-latitude recurring slope lineae (RSL) imply formation by freshwater surface flows. Icarus 233, 328–341 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Gough, R. V., Chevrier, V. F., Baustian, K. J, Wise, M. E. & Tolbert, M. A. Laboratory studies of perchlorate phase transitions: support for metastable aqueous perchlorate solutions on Mars. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 312, 371–377 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Kereszturi, Á. et al. Recent rheologic processes on dark polar dunes of Mars: driven by interfacial water? Icarus 201, 492–503 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Conway, S. J., Lamb, M. P., Balme, M. R., Towner, M. C. & Murray, J. B. Enhanced runout and erosion by overland flow at low-pressure and sub-freezing conditions: experiments and application to Mars. Icarus 211, 443–457 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Jouannic, G. et al. Laboratory simulation of debris flows over sand dunes: insights into gully-formation (Mars). Geomorphology 231, 101–115 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Haberle, R. M. et al. Preliminary interpretation of the REM pressure data from the first 100 sols of the MSL mission. J. Geophys. Res. 119, 440–453 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Massé, M. et al. Spectroscopy and detectability of liquid brines on Mars. Planet. Space Sci. 92, 136–149 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Chevrier, V. F., Ulrich, R. & Altheide, T. S. Viscosity of liquid ferric sulfate solutions and application to the formation of gullies on Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 114, E06001 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Atwood-Stone, C. & McEwen, A. S. Avalanche slope angles in low-gravity environments from active Martian sand dunes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 2929–2934 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Kreslavsky, M. A. & Head, J. W. Slope streaks on Mars: a new ‘wet’ mechanism. Icarus 201, 517–527 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Malin, M. C. & Edgett, K. S. Evidence for recent groundwater seepage and surface runoff on Mars. Science 288, 2330–2335 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Möhlmann, D. & Kereszturi, A. Viscous liquid film on dune slopes of Mars. Icarus 207, 654–658 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Dundas, C. M., Diniega, S. & McEwen, A. S. Long-term monitoring of Martian gully formation and evolution with MRO/HiRISE. Icarus 251, 244–263 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Sullivan, R., Thomas, P., Veverka, J., Malin, M. & Edget, K. S. Mass movement slope streaks imaged by the Mars Orbiter Camera. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 23607–23633 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hansen, C. et al. Seasonal erosion and restoration of Mars’ northern polar dunes. Science 331, 575–578 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Chojnacki, M. et al. Active slopes of Valles Marineris—wind, water and gravity. Proc. 46th Lunar Planet. Sci. Conf. 2752 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  25. Vincendon, M. Identification of Mars gully activity types associated with ice composition. J. Geophys. Res. 120, 1859–1879 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Appéré, T. et al. Winter and spring evolution of northern seasonal deposits on Mars from OMEGA on Mars Express. J. Geophys. Res. 116, E05001 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Jouannic, G. et al. Morphological and mechanical characterization of gullies in a periglacial environment: the case of the Russel Crater dune (Mars). Planet. Space Sci. 71, 38–54 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Cousin, A. et al. Composition of coarse and fine particles in Martian soils at Gale: a window into the production of soils. Icarus 249, 22–42 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Gendrin, A. et al. Sulfates in Martian layered terrains: the OMEGA/ Mars Express view. Science 307, 1587–1591 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Westoby, M. J., Brasington, J., Glasser, N. F., Hambrey, M. J. & Reynolds, J. M. ‘Structure-from-Motion’ photogrammetry: a low-cost, effective tool for geoscience applications. Geomorphology 179, 300–314 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work has been funded by ‘Programme National de Planétologie’ and by the P2IO LabEx (ANR-10-LABX-0038) in the framework ‘Investissements d’Avenir’ (ANR-11-IDEX-0003-01) managed by the French National Research Agency (ANR). S.J.C. acknowledges funding from the Leverhulme Trust Grant RPG-397. Thorough advice and help from S. Le Mouélic and O. Bourgeois greatly improved the quality of this article. We thank W. Marra for insightful comments.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

The methodology and experimental set-up was conceived and designed by M.M., S.J.C. and J.G. with significant advice, help and technical support from M.R.P., K.P., A.M., V.C., M.R.B., L.O., F.C. and G.J. All data analysis was done by M.M. with significant feedback from S.J.C., J.G. and K.P. Data about current water ice location and deposition were provided by M.V. and F.P. Physical constraints and models were provided by J.G., S.J.C. and S.C. All authors contributed to discussion, interpretation and writing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to M. Massé.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 989 kb)

Supplementary Movies

Supplementary Movie 1 (MOV 3899 kb)

Supplementary Movies

Supplementary Movie 2 (MOV 2580 kb)

Supplementary Movies

Supplementary Movie 3 (MOV 3085 kb)

Supplementary Movies

Supplementary Movie 4 (MOV 1830 kb)

Supplementary Movies

Supplementary Movie 5 (MOV 1891 kb)

Supplementary Movies

Supplementary Movie 6 (MOV 1629 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Massé, M., Conway, S., Gargani, J. et al. Transport processes induced by metastable boiling water under Martian surface conditions. Nature Geosci 9, 425–428 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2706

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2706

This article is cited by

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