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A Rock Record of Complex Aeolian Bedforms in a Hesperian Desert Landscape: the Stimson formation as exposed in the Murray buttes, Gale crater, Mars

Banham, Steven G. and Gupta, Sanjeev and Rubin, David M. and Edgett, Kenneth S. and Barnes, Robert and Van Beek, Jason and Watkins, Jessica A. and Edgar, Lauren A. and Fedo, Christopher M. and Williams, Rebecca M. and Stack, Kathryn M. and Grotzinger, John P. and Lewis, Kevin and Ewing, Ryan C. and Day, Mackenzie and Vasavada, Ashwin R. (2021) A Rock Record of Complex Aeolian Bedforms in a Hesperian Desert Landscape: the Stimson formation as exposed in the Murray buttes, Gale crater, Mars. Journal of Geophysical Research. Planets, 126 (4). Art. No. e2020JE006554. ISSN 2169-9097. doi:10.1029/2020JE006554.

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Lithified aeolian strata encode information about ancient planetary surface processes and the climate during deposition. Decoding these strata provides insight regarding past sediment transport processes, bedform kinematics, depositional landscape, and the prevailing climate. Deciphering these signatures requires detailed analysis of sedimentary architecture to reconstruct dune morphology, motion and the conditions that enabled their formation. Here we show that a distinct sandstone unit exposed in the foothills of Mount Sharp, Gale crater, Mars, records the preserved expression of compound aeolian bedforms that accumulated in a large dune field. Analysis of Mastcam images of the Stimson formation shows that it consists of cross‐stratified sandstone beds separated by a hierarchy of erosive bounding surfaces formed during dune migration. The presence of two orders of surfaces with distinct geometrical relations reveals that the Stimson‐era landscape consisted of large dunes (draas) with smaller, superimposed dunes migrating across their lee slopes. Analysis of cross‐lamination and subset bounding surface geometries indicate a complex wind regime that transported sediment toward the north, constructing oblique dunes. This dune field was a direct product of the regional climate and the surface processes active in Gale crater during the fraction of the Hesperian Period recorded by the Stimson formation. The environment was arid, supporting a large aeolian dune field; this setting contrasts with earlier humid depositional episodes, recorded by the lacustrine sediments of the Murray formation (also Hesperian). Such fine‐scale reconstruction of landscapes on the ancient surface of Mars is important to understanding the planet’s past climate and habitability.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription ItemNASA Planetary Data System ItemMSL Curiosity Analyst’s Notebook
Banham, Steven G.0000-0003-1206-1639
Rubin, David M.0000-0003-1169-1452
Edgett, Kenneth S.0000-0001-7197-5751
Barnes, Robert0000-0001-7864-4824
Edgar, Lauren A.0000-0001-7512-7813
Fedo, Christopher M.0000-0002-2626-1132
Williams, Rebecca M.0000-0003-1571-6952
Stack, Kathryn M.0000-0003-3444-6695
Grotzinger, John P.0000-0001-9324-1257
Lewis, Kevin0000-0003-3412-803X
Ewing, Ryan C.0000-0001-6337-610X
Day, Mackenzie0000-0003-3998-7749
Vasavada, Ashwin R.0000-0003-2665-286X
Additional Information:© 2021. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. Government sponsorship acknowledged. This article has been contributed to by US Government employees and their work is in the public domain in the USA. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Issue Online: 21 April 2021; Version of Record online: 21 April 2021; Accepted manuscript online: 30 March 2021; Manuscript accepted: 25 February 2021; Manuscript revised: 09 February 2021; Manuscript received: 16 June 2020. The authors acknowledge the enormous efforts made by the NASA Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Project’s engineering, science, and management teams in making this work possible. The authors are also grateful to the many MSL team members who participated in tactical and strategic operations during the Murray buttes campaign. Special thanks go to the Malin Space Science Systems operations team for their hard work in acquiring the extensive image data and software team for production of the Mastcam mosaic products used herein. Sanjeev Gupta, Steven G. Banham, and Robert Barnes acknowledge funding from the UK Space Agency (UKSA) (Grant numbers: ST/N000579/1; ST/S001492/1; ST/S001506/1; ST/T001755/1). Data presented in this study are archived with the NASA Planetary Data System ( and readily accessible through the MSL Curiosity Analyst’s Notebook ( Parts of this study were carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Finally, the authors wish to thank Juan Pedro Rodriguez‐Lopez, and, especially, Gary Kocurek for their constructive reviews. The data used during this study are publicly available on the NASA Planetary Data System, via the MSL Analyst’s Handbook, or the PDS image Atlas ( Image products data generated by this study are provided as an additional resource via the Zenodo open access repository – Banham, Gupta, Rubin et al. (2020). This includes: a slide pack containing figures, data sources, and additional maps, provided as a teaching resource; a GIS data set for the Murray buttes area showing the location of buttes, field‐of‐view for the mosaics used, and the transport directions. Finally, a slide pack of figures, images, and additional diagrams associated with this study have been included as supporting information. This material is intended for teaching, outreach, or further research.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA)ST/N000579/1
United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA)ST/S001492/1
United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA)ST/S001506/1
United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA)ST/T001755/1
Subject Keywords:Aeolian; Gale crater; Mars Science Laboratory; stratigraphy; Mars; dune field
Issue or Number:4
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20210414-081054355
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Banham, S. G., Gupta, S., Rubin, D. M., Edgett, K. S., Barnes, R., Van Beek, J., et al. (2021). A rock record of complex aeolian bedforms in a Hesperian desert landscape: The Stimson formation as exposed in the Murray buttes, Gale crater, Mars. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 126, e2020JE006554.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:108726
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:17 Apr 2021 00:06
Last Modified:28 Apr 2021 17:04

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