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The formation and evolution of youthful gullies on Mars: Gullies as the late-stage phase of Mars’ most recent ice age

Dickson, James L. and Head, James W. (2009) The formation and evolution of youthful gullies on Mars: Gullies as the late-stage phase of Mars’ most recent ice age. Icarus, 204 (1). pp. 63-86. ISSN 0019-1035.

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Gullies are extremely young erosional/depositional systems on Mars that have been carved by an agent that was likely to have been comprised in part by liquid water [Malin, M.C., Edgett, K.S., 2000. Evidence for recent groundwater seepage and surface runoff on Mars. Science 288, 2330–2335; McEwen, A.S. et al., 2007. A closer look at water-related geologic activity on Mars. Science 317, 1706–1709]. The strong latitude and orientation dependencies that have been documented for gullies require (1) a volatile near the surface, and (2) that insolation is an important factor for forming gullies. These constraints have led to two categories of interpretations for the source of the volatiles: (1) liquid water at depth beneath the melting isotherm that erupts suddenly (“groundwater”), and (2) ice at the surface or within the uppermost layer of soil that melts during optimal insolation conditions (“surface/near-surface melting”). In this contribution we synthesize global, hemispheric, regional and local studies of gullies across Mars and outline the criteria that must be met by any successful explanation for the formation of gullies. We further document trends in both hemispheres that emphasize the importance of top-down melting of recent ice-rich deposits and the cold-trapping of atmospherically-derived H_2O frost/snow as important components in the formation of gullies. This provides context for the incorporation of high-resolution multi-spectral and hyper-spectral data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that show that (1) cold-trapping of seasonal H_2O frost occurs at the alcove/channel-level on contemporary Mars; (2) gullies are episodically active systems; (3) gullies preferentially form in the presence of deposits plausibly interpreted as remnants of the Late Amazonian emplacement of ice-rich material; and (4) gully channels frequently emanate from the crest of alcoves instead of the base, showing that alcove generation is not necessarily a product of undermining and collapse at these locations, a prediction of the groundwater model. We interpret these various lines of evidence to mean that the majority of gullies on Mars are explained by the episodic melting of atmospherically emplaced snow/ice under spin-axis/orbital conditions characteristic of the last several Myr.

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Head, James W.0000-0003-2013-560X
Additional Information:© 2009 Elsevier Inc. Received 22 January 2009, Revised 29 April 2009, Accepted 24 June 2009, Available online 27 June 2009. We would like to thank those workers who have devoted considerable time to collecting and analyzing data for gullies on Mars, most notably Mike Malin, Ken Edgett, Jennifer Heldmann and Matthew Balme. We thank Mike Malin, Ken Edgett and the staff of MSSS for their targeting of gullies with the MOC and CTX cameras and for helpful discussions. Engineers and science teams for MOC, MOLA, THEMIS, HRSC, HiRISE, CTX and CRISM are all gratefully acknowledged. Extensive discussions and assistance with data from Caleb Fassett, Gareth Morgan, Joseph Levy, Samuel Schon and David Marchant considerably aided the preparation of this manuscript. Extremely thoughtful reviews from Vic Baker and an anonymous reviewer significantly improved this work. We are also sincerely indebted to the personnel of Raytheon Polar Services Company and the staff at McMurdo Station in Antarctica during the 2006–2007 Austral summer field season. We greatly acknowledge financial assistance from the NASA Mars Data Analysis Program Grants NNG04GJ99G, NNX07AN95G, the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera Co-Investigator Program (DTM-3250-05), the NASA Mars Fundamental Research Program Grant GC196412NGA, and the NASA Applied Information Systems Research Program Grant NNG05GA61G.
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Subject Keywords:Mars; Mars, climate; Mars, surface; Geological processes
Issue or Number:1
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20161130-103210085
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Official Citation:James L. Dickson, James W. Head, The formation and evolution of youthful gullies on Mars: Gullies as the late-stage phase of Mars’ most recent ice age, Icarus, Volume 204, Issue 1, November 2009, Pages 63-86, ISSN 0019-1035, (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:72442
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:30 Nov 2016 19:17
Last Modified:09 Mar 2020 13:18

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