At the present time the majority of water on Mars is firmly tucked away in its ice caps, yet once it was in abundance on this planet, and now new research suggests that overflowing lakes may have carved the planet’s dramatic canyons.
As Phys.org reports, billions of years ago water would have once gushed through enormous rivers on Mars that emptied themselves into craters which eventually became vast seas and lakes.
Now new research conducted by the University of Texas at Austin has evidence which shows that sometimes these crater lakes themselves became so filled with water that the swelling lakes ended up overflowing out of their basins which would have created floods that were large enough that they ended up creating the planet’s canyons. In fact, it is even believed that some of these floods on Mars would have been of such great intensity that canyons may have been formed in as little as a few weeks.
The new study’s lead author Tim Goudge, who is a postdoctoral research at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences, explained that his new research reveals geological activities such as flooding may have had a much greater impact than plate tectonics when it came to forming the features we now see on Mars today.
“These breached lakes are fairly common and some of them are quite large, some as large as the Caspian Sea. So we think this style of catastrophic overflow flooding and rapid incision of outlet canyons was probably quite important on early Mars’ surface.”
Scientists already know that many of the craters on Mars were once filled with water and were turned into paleolakes. Over 200 of these paleolakes have been spotted beside outlet canyons which sometimes stretch hundreds of kilometers into the distance, yet before this new research scientists were not able to determine if these canyons were formed quickly or over long stretches of time, which could have lasted millions of years.
By looking at photographs from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite, researchers carefully analyzed the topography of 24 paleolakes, crater rims, and their outlets and found evidence of flooding events here. In fact, one of the paleolakes that was studied was the Jezero Crater, which is currently being thought of as a possible landing location for the Mars 2020 lander.
As Goudge noted, “This tells us that things that are different between the planets are not as important as the basic physics of the overflow process and the size of the basin. You can learn more about this process by comparing different planets as opposed to just thinking about what’s occurring on Earth or what’s occurring on Mars.”
The new study which describes how the canyons of Mars were most likely formed by overflowing lakes has been published in Geology.