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Geophysical evidence for an active mantle plume underneath Elysium Planitia on Mars

Abstract

Although the majority of volcanic and tectonic activity on Mars occurred during the first 1.5 billion years of its geologic history, recent volcanism, tectonism and active seismicity in Elysium Planitia reveal ongoing activity. However, this recent pulse in volcanism and tectonics is unexpected on a cooling Mars. Here we present observational evidence and geophysical models demonstrating that Elysium Planitia is underlain by an ~4,000-km-diameter active mantle plume head. Plume activity provides an explanation for the regional gravity and topography highs, recent volcanism, transition from compressional to extensional tectonics and ongoing seismicity. The inferred plume head characteristics are comparable to terrestrial plumes that are linked to the formation of large igneous provinces. Our results demonstrate that the interior of Mars is geodynamically active today, and imply that volcanism has been driven by mantle plumes from the formation of the Hesperian volcanic provinces and Tharsis in the past to Elysium Planitia today.

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Fig. 1: Martian volcanic resurfacing history.
Fig. 2: Evidence for dynamic uplift of a mantle plume from long-wavelength gravity and topography.
Fig. 3: Plume head centre and InSight marsquake epicentre location.
Fig. 4: Cross-cutting relationships and crater floor slopes.
Fig. 5: Stress field at Elysium Planitia for different loading scenarios and resulting dike models.

Data availability

The gravity field model from ref. 52 can be found at https://pds-geosciences.wustl.edu/mro/mro-m-rss-5-sdp-v1/mrors_1xxx/data/shadr/ and the topography model from ref. 60 can be obtained at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3870922. The colour maps used are from ref. 61 and can be found at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5501399. Additional data to reproduce Figs. 2 and 5 can be found at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7191516.

Code availability

The thin-shell flexural model from ref. 27 can be found at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7196507.

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Acknowledgements

This work is supported by grant 80NSSC17K0059 from the NASA Solar System Workings programme to J.C.A.-H. We thank S. Smrekar for comments that helped improve the manuscript.

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A.B. and J.C.A.-H. conceptualized the work and methodology, wrote the manuscript and carried out the data analyses and modelling.

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Correspondence to A. Broquet.

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Broquet, A., Andrews-Hanna, J.C. Geophysical evidence for an active mantle plume underneath Elysium Planitia on Mars. Nat Astron (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-022-01836-3

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