Present-day erosion of Martian polar terrain by the seasonal CO2 jets


Here we report on the detection of new dendritic troughs created by the seasonal CO2 jet activity over several Martian years. According to Kieffers hypothesis (Kieffer, 2007) in Martian polar areas seasonal CO2 ice sublimation creates gas jets that deposit fans of mineral dust and sand on top of the CO2 ice. These jets and the related sub-ice gas flows are believed to carve troughs in the underlying polar deposits which, after multiple repetitions of this process throughout Martian spring seasons, create araneiform terrains. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) detected the new troughs during its campaign for seasonal monitoring of the polar areas. The newly detected dendritic troughs are small shallow branching troughs ($≈$ 1.4 m wide) similar to the seasonal furrows previously detected in the northern hemisphere (Bourke, 2013). The essential difference between the new troughs and furrows lies in the fact that the troughs in the south are persistent while the northern furrows are erased each Martian year by the sand movement due to summer winds. From year to year the new southern troughs extend and develop new tributaries and their overall geometry turns from linear to dendritic, a characteristic shared with araneiform terrains. We believe that furrows have the same origin as the southern dendritic troughs but do not develop into dendritic shapes because of the high mobility of the dune material into which they are carved. Several locations where new dendritic troughs are observed lie in the vicinity of dunes. This gives us an observational indication that presence of erosive sand material is an important factor in creating (or at least starting) erosive processes that lead to the formation of dendritic troughs. By extrapolation the same mechanism should be acting to create the much larger araneiform terrains. Detection of the present day erosion working in polar areas and creating new topographical features is important for understanding of the processes that shape polar areas. Several years of HiRISE observations provide us with the information about the current rate of erosion and hence help estimate minimum ages of the araneiforms, and the surface into which they are carved, to be 1300 Martian years.

Michael Aye
Michael Aye
Research Scientist in Planetary Science

My research interests include remote sensing of surfaces, related machine learning studies and open source software.