75 research outputs found

    Constructional Volcanic Edifices on Mercury: Candidates and Hypotheses of Formation

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    Mercury, a planet with a predominantly volcanic crust, has perplexingly few, if any, constructional volcanic edifices, despite their common occurrence on other solar system bodies with volcanic histories. Using image and topographical data from the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft, we describe two small (< 15 km‐diameter) prominences with shallow summit depressions associated with volcanically flooded impact features. We offer both volcanic and impact‐related interpretations for their formation, and then compare these landforms with volcanic features on Earth and the Moon. Though we cannot definitively conclude that these landforms are volcanic, the paucity of constructional volcanic edifices on Mercury is intriguing in itself. We suggest that this lack is because volcanic eruptions with sufficiently low eruption volumes, rates, and flow lengths, suitable for edifice construction, were highly spatiotemporally restricted during Mercury's geological history. We suggest that volcanic edifices may preferentially occur in association with late‐stage, post‐impact effusive volcanic deposits. The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission to Mercury will be able to investigate further our candidate volcanic edifices, search for other, as‐yet unrecognized edifices beneath the detection limits of MESSENGER data, and test our hypothesis that edifice construction is favored by late‐stage, low‐volume effusive eruptions

    Dating martian climate change

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    Geological evidence indicates that low-latitude polygonally-patterned grounds on Mars, generally thought to be the product of flood volcanism, are periglacial in nature and record a complex signal of changing climate. By studying the martian surface stratigraphically (in terms of the geometrical relations between surface landforms and the substrate) rather than genetically (by form analogy with Earth), we have identified dynamic surfaces across one fifth of martian longitude. New stratigraphical observations in the Elysium-Amazonis plains have revealed a progressive surface polygonisation that is destructive of impact craters across the region. This activity is comparable to the climatically-driven degradation of periglacial landscapes on Earth, but because it affects impact craters – the martian chronometer – it can be dated. Here we show that it is possible to directly date this activity based on the fraction of impact craters affected by polygon formation. Nearly 100% of craters (of all diameters) are superposed by polygonal sculpture: considering the few-100 Ma age of the substrate, this suggests that the process of polygon formation was active within the last few million years. Surface polygonisation in this region, often considered to be one of the signs of young, 'plains-forming' volcanism on Mars, is instead shown to postdate the majority of impact craters seen. We therefore conclude that it is post-depositional in origin and an artifact of thermal cycling of near-surface ground ice. Stratigraphically-controlled crater counts present the first way of dating climate change on a planet other than Earth: a record that may tell us something about climate change on our own planet. Parallel climate change on these two worlds – an ice age Mars coincident with Earth's glacial Quaternary period – might suggest a coupled system linking both. We have previously been unable to generalise about the causes of long-term climate change based on a single terrestrial example – with the beginnings of a chronology for climate change on our nearest planetary neighbour, we can

    <i>In Situ</i> Sampling of Relative Dust Devil Particle Loads and Their Vertical Grain Size Distributions

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    During a field campaign in the Sahara Desert in southern Morocco, spring 2012, we sampled the vertical grain size distribution of two active dust devils that exhibited different dimensions and intensities. With these in situ samples of grains in the vortices, it was possible to derive detailed vertical grain size distributions and measurements of the lifted relative particle load. Measurements of the two dust devils show that the majority of all lifted particles were only lifted within the first meter (~46.5% and ~61% of all particles; ~76.5 wt % and ~89 wt % of the relative particle load). Furthermore, ~69% and ~82% of all lifted sand grains occurred in the first meter of the dust devils, indicating the occurrence of ‘‘sand skirts.’’ Both sampled dust devils were relatively small (~15m and ~4–5m in diameter) compared to dust devils in surrounding regions; nevertheless, measurements show that ~58.5% to 73.5% of all lifted particles were small enough to go into suspension (<31 mm, depending on the used grain size classification). This relatively high amount represents only ~0.05 to 0.15 wt % of the lifted particle load. Larger dust devils probably entrain larger amounts of fine-grained material into the atmosphere, which can have an influence on the climate. Furthermore, our results indicate that the composition of the surface, on which the dust devils evolved, also had an influence on the particle load composition of the dust devil vortices. The internal particle load structure of both sampled dust devils was comparable related to their vertical grain size distribution and relative particle load, although both dust devils differed in their dimensions and intensities. A general trend of decreasing grain sizes with height was also detected

    The Hypanis Valles delta: The last highstand of a sea on early Mars?

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    One of the most contentious hypotheses in the geological history of Mars is whether the northern lowlands ever contained an oceanic water body. Arguably, the best evidence for an ocean comes from the presence of sedimentary fans around Mars' dichotomy boundary, which separates the northern lowlands from the southern highlands. Here we describe the palaeogeomorphology of the Hypanis Valles sediment fan, the largest sediment fan complex reported on Mars (area >970 km2). This has an extensive catchment (4.6 x 105 km2) incorporating Hypanis and Nanedi Valles, that we show was active during the late-Noachian/early-Hesperian period (∌3.7 Ga). The fan comprises a series of lobe-shaped sediment bodies, connected by multiple bifurcating flat-topped ridges. We interpret the latter as former fluvial channel belts now preserved in inverted relief. Meter-scale-thick, sub-horizontal layers that are continuous over tens of kilometres are visible in scarps and the inverted channel margins. The inverted channel branches and lobes are observed to occur up to at least 140 km from the outlet of Hypanis Valles and descend ∌500 m in elevation. The progressive basinward advance of the channellobe transition records deposition and avulsion at the margin of a retreating standing body of water, assuming the elevation of the northern plains basin floor is stable. We interpret the Hypanis sediment fan to represent an ancient delta as opposed to a fluvial fan system. At its location at the dichotomy boundary, the Hypanis Valles fan system is topographically open to Chryse Planitia – an extensive plain that opens in turn into the larger northern lowlands basin. We conclude that the observed progradation of fan bodies was due to basinward shoreline retreat of an ancient body of water which extended across at least Chryse Planitia. Given the open topography, it is plausible that the Hypanis fan system records the existence, last highstand, and retreat of a large sea in Chryse Planitia and perhaps even an ocean that filled the northern plains of Mars

    Modelling Esker Formation on Mars

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    International audience&lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;Introduction:&lt;/strong&gt;&amp;#160; Eskers are sinuous sedimentary ridges that are widespread across formerly glaciated landscapes on Earth. They form when sediment in subglacial tunnels is deposited by meltwater. Some sinuous ridges on Mars have been identified as eskers; whilst some are thought to have formed early in Mars&amp;#8217; history beneath extensive ice sheets, smaller, younger systems associated with extant glaciers in Mars&amp;#8217; mid latitudes have also been identified. Elevated geothermal heating and formation during periods with more extensive glaciation have been suggested as possible prerequisites for recent Martian esker deposition.&lt;/p&gt;&lt;p&gt;Here, we adapt a model of esker formation with g and other constants altered to Martian values, using it initially to investigate the impact of Martian conditions on subglacial tunnel systems, before investigating the effect of varying water discharge on esker deposition.&lt;/p&gt;&lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;Methods:&lt;/strong&gt; To investigate the effect of these values on the operation of subglacial tunnel systems we first conduct a series of model experiments with steady water discharge, varying the assumed liquid density (r&lt;sub&gt;w&lt;/sub&gt;) from 1000 kgm&lt;sup&gt;-3&lt;/sup&gt; to 1980 kgm&lt;sup&gt;-3&lt;/sup&gt; (the density of saturated perchlorate brine) and ice hardness (A) from 2.4x10&lt;sup&gt;-24&lt;/sup&gt; Pa&lt;sup&gt;-3&lt;/sup&gt;s&lt;sup&gt;-1&lt;/sup&gt; to 5x10&lt;sup&gt;-27&lt;/sup&gt; Pa&lt;sup&gt;-3&lt;/sup&gt;s&lt;sup&gt;-1&lt;/sup&gt; (a temperature range of 0&amp;#176;C to -50&amp;#176;C). We then investigate the impact of variable water discharge on esker formation to simulate very simply a possible release of meltwater from an assumed geothermal event beneath a Martian glacier or ice cap.&lt;/p&gt;&lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;Results and Discussion:&lt;/strong&gt;&amp;#160; A key aspect of model behaviour is the decrease in sediment carrying capacity towards the ice margin due to increased tunnel size as ice thins. Our results suggest that Martian parameters emphasise this effect, making deposition more likely over a greater length of the conduit. Lower gravity has the largest impact; it reduces the modeled closure rate of subglacial tunnels markedly as this varies with overburden stress (and hence g) cubed. Frictional heating from flowing water also drops, but much less sensitively. Thus, for a given discharge, the tunnels tend to be larger, leading to lower water pressure and a reduction in flow power. This effect is amplified for harder ice. Higher inferred fluid density raises the flow power, but by a smaller amount.&lt;/p&gt;&lt;p&gt;These effects are clearly seen in the variable discharge experiments. Sediment is deposited on the falling limb of the hydrograph, when the tunnels are larger than the equivalent steady-state water discharge would produce. Sediment deposition occurs much further upglacier from the glacier snout, and occurs earlier on the falling limb leading to longer periods in which deposition occurs.&lt;/p&gt;&lt;p&gt;&lt;strong&gt;Conclusions:&lt;/strong&gt; Our results suggest that esker formation within a subglacial meltwater tunnel would be&amp;#160;more likely on Mars than Earth, primarily because subglacial tunnels tend to be larger for equivalent water discharges, with consequent lower water flow velocities. This allows sediment deposition over longer lengths of tunnel, and to greater depths, than for terrestrial systems. Future work will use measured bed topography of a mid-latitude esker to assess the impact of topography on deposition patterns and esker morphology, and we will expand the range of discharges and sediment supply regimes investigated.&lt;/p&gt

    Debris-flow release processes investigated through the analysis of multi-temporal LiDAR datasets in north-western Iceland

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    Debris flows are fast‐moving gravity flows of poorly sorted rock and soil, mixed and saturated with water. Debris‐flow initiation has been studied using empirical and experimental modelling, but the geomorphic changes, indicative of different triggering processes, are difficult to constrain with field observations only. We identify signatures to distinguish two different debris‐flow release styles by integrating high‐resolution multi‐temporal remote sensing datasets and morphometric analysis. We analyse debris flows sourced above the town of ÍsafjörĂ°ur (Iceland). Two debris‐flow triggering processes were previously hypothesized for this site: (i) slope failure, characterised by landslides evolving into debris flows, and (ii) the fire‐hose effect, in which debris accumulated in pre‐existing, steep‐sided bedrock passages is transported by a surge of water. It is unknown which process dominates and determines the local risk. To investigate this question, we compare airborne LiDAR elevation models and aerial photographs collected in 2007 with similar data from 2013. We find that two new debris‐flow tracks were created by slope failures. These are characterised by steep sliding surfaces and lateral leveed channels. Slope failure also occurred in two large, recently active tracks, creating the preparatory conditions for the fire‐hose effect to mobilise existing debris. These tracks show alternating zones of fill and scour along their length, and debris stored below the source‐area at rest angles >35°. Our approach allows us to identify and quantify the morphological changes produced by slope failure release process, which generated the preparatory conditions for the fire‐hose effect. As debris flows are rarely observed in action and morphological changes induced by them are difficult to detect and monitor, the same approach could be applied to other landscapes to understand debris‐flow initiation in absence of other monitoring information, and can improve the identification of zones at risk in inhabited areas near hillslopes with potential for debris flows