Catastrophic Floods On Mars Acted As A Cause Of Valley Formation Rather Than Flowing Rivers: Research

The importance of lake breach floods for valley incision on early Mars

Cover Image: NASA/GSFC/ JPL ASU
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Floods from overflowing lakes created vast chasms on the Martian surface, dumping millions of tons of sediment and radically altering the terrain.

The red planet may be a barren wasteland today, but millions of years ago, it was flooded with so much water that entire landscapes were shaped by it.

For years, scientists have known that the erosion of ancient rivers has created breathtaking valleys and lakes across the surface of the Earth.

According to a new study, the planet also experienced floods from overflowing lakes, which created vast chasms on its surface, dumping millions of tons of sediment and drastically changing the planet’s surface.

On Earth, these changes typically occur over months, whereas on Venus, they occur within weeks.

Researchers from the University of Texas published a study in Nature that resolves the mystery of the Martian craters, which has baffled astronomers for decades.

Tectonic activity and soil erosion are responsible for erasing much of Earth’s impact craters, but Mars lacks tectonic activity, which results in the planet’s abundance of impact craters.

Red planets were wet when they were nearby, which meant water-filled environments were common. These “crater lakes” would breach when they were full, causing devastating floods and altering the surrounding landscape. Researchers have shown that floodwater from these breached craters created deep valleys in nearby landscapes.

Researchers have made significant efforts to understand the environmental conditions and engineering mechanisms involved in valley network incision, with past global studies proposing primarily surface runoff, groundwater discharge at valley heads, and subglacial drainage from large ice sheets, said Timothy Goudge, lead author of the study.

The findings indicate the floodwater from these crater lakes was crucial to the formation of Mar’s ancient river valleys. Up to 24 percent of early river valleys on the surface of the planet were eroded by floods.

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