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Ancient ocean on Mars supported by global distribution of deltas and valleys

Nature Geoscience volume 3, pages 459463 (2010) | Download Citation

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Abstract

The climate of early Mars could have supported a complex hydrological system and possibly a northern hemispheric ocean covering up to one-third of the planet’s surface1,2,3,4,5. This notion has been repeatedly proposed1,2,3,4,5 and challenged6,7 over the past two decades, and remains one of the largest uncertainties in Mars research. Here, we used global databases of known deltaic deposits, valley networks8 and present-day martian topography to test for the occurrence of an ocean on early Mars. The distribution of ancient martian deltas delineates a planet-wide equipotential surface within and along the margins of the northern lowlands. We suggest that the level reconstructed from the analysis of the deltaic deposits may represent the contact of a vast ocean covering the northern hemisphere of Mars around 3.5 billion years ago. This boundary is broadly consistent with palaeoshorelines suggested by previous geomorphologic, thermophysic and topographic analyses, and with the global distribution and age of ancient valley networks. Our findings lend credence to the hypothesis that an ocean formed on early Mars as part of a global and active hydrosphere.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by NASA Mars Data Analysis Program Grant no. NNX06AE08G. Comments of A. Fairen improved earlier versions of this manuscript. Supplementary Fig. S2 was obtained using the Generic Mapping Tools (P. Wessel, and W. H. F. Smith, New version of the Generic Mapping Tools released, EOS Trans. Amer. Geophys. U., vol. 76, pp. 329, 1995).

Author information

Author notes

    • Gaetano Di Achille

    Present address: Research and Scientific Support Department, European Space Agency, ESA-ESTEC, 2200AG Noordwijk, The Netherlands

Affiliations

  1. Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado, 392 UCB, Boulder, Colorado 80309, United States

    • Gaetano Di Achille
    •  & Brian M. Hynek
  2. Department of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado, 399 UCB, Colorado 80309, United States

    • Brian M. Hynek

Authors

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Contributions

G.D.A. conceived this research study, implemented the deltas’ catalogue and the topographic analyses, and wrote the paper. B.M.H. compiled the valley networks database, discussed the results and contributed to the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gaetano Di Achille.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo891

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