Middle to Late Amazonian Tropical Mountain Glaciers on Mars: The Ages of the Tharsis Montes Fan-Shaped Deposits
Kadish et al
Fan-shaped deposits (FSDs) extending to the northwest of the Tharsis Montes on Mars are the remnants of Amazonian-aged, cold-based, tropical mountain glaciers. We use high-resolution images to perform new impact crater size-frequency distribution (CSFD) analyses on these deposits in an effort to constrain the timing and duration of ice accumulation at tropical latitudes on Mars. This analysis revises the current understanding of the chronology regarding the formation of the glaciers and of the ridged facies in the Arsia Mons deposit, a deposit interpreted to be formed from recessional cold-based drop moraines. We develop a conceptual model that illustrates the effect of moving glacial ice on superposed impact craters of various sizes, including the buffering of underlying geologic units from impacts caused by the presence of the ice for extended periods of time, and the interpretation of crater retention ages of the subsequent glacial deposits following the periods of active glaciation. The new CSFD analyses establish best-fit crater retention ages for each entire Tharsis Montes FSD; these are ~220 Ma for the Ascraeus FSD at 8.35°S, ~125 Ma for the Pavonis FSD at 1.48°N, and ~210 Ma for the Arsia FSD at 11.92°N. Because the age for each deposit represents a combination of the stratigraphically older ridged facies and the younger knobby and smooth facies, the crater retention ages are most likely to represent dates subsequent to the onset of glaciation and prior to its final cessation. Estimates of the time necessary to build the deposits using net accumulation rates from atmospheric general circulation models and emplacement rates from glacial flow models suggest durations of ~45–150 Ma, depending on the specific obliquity history. These surface crater retention ages and related age estimates require that massive volumes of ice (on the order of 105 km3) were emplaced at tropical latitudes on Mars during the Middle to Late Amazonian. Additionally, we determined CSFD ages of three adjacent drop moraine units at Arsia Mons (725 Ma, 475 Ma and 345 Ma) and used these to calculate the average amount of time needed to form one of the approximately 185 drop moraines forming these deposits; we found that a typical drop moraine formation time in the Arsia FSD ridged facies to be on the order of ~106 years. These formation ages are considerably longer than that required for typical moraine systems alongside dynamic, wet-based glaciers on Earth, but are in approximate accord with recent geomorphological and geochemical data that document long-term, ice-margin stability for several cold-based glaciers in interior Antarctica. The difference in the ages of the ridged facies and non-ridged portion of the Arsia FSD suggests that the tropical mountain glaciers may have been emplaced over a period spanning many hundreds of millions of years. CSFD measurements for lava flows predating and postdating the Arsia Mons FSD suggest a maximum possible age of less than 750 Ma and a minimum age for the late stage, post FSD lava flows of ~105 Ma. Taken together, this evidence supports a scenario in which ice has been present and stable in substantial quantities (~105–106 km3) at tropical latitudes during extended periods of the Middle to Late Amazonian history of Mars. This implies that during this time, Mars sustained periods of spin-axis obliquity in the vicinity of 45°, during which time polar ice deposits were substantially reduced in volume or perhaps even absent.