Lava heating and loading of ice sheets on early Mars: Predictions for meltwater generation, groundwater recharge, and resulting landforms
Cassanelli et al
Recent modeling studies of the early Mars climate predict a predominantly cold climate, characterized by the formation of regional ice sheets across the highland areas of Mars. Formation of the predicted “icy highlands” ice sheets is coincident with a peak in the volcanic flux of Mars involving the emplacement of the Late Noachian – Early Hesperian ridged plains unit. We explore the relationship between the predicted early Mars “icy highlands” ice sheets, and the extensive early flood volcanism to gain insight into the surface conditions prevalent during the Late Noachian to Early Hesperian transition period. Using Hesperia Planum as a type area, we develop an ice sheet lava heating and loading model. We quantitatively assess the thermal and melting processes involved in the lava heating and loading process following the chronological sequence of lava emplacement. We test a broad range of parameters to thoroughly constrain the lava heating and loading process and outline predictions for the formation of resulting geological features. We apply the theoretical model to a study area within the Hesperia Planum region and assess the observed geology against predictions derived from the ice sheet lava heating and loading model. Due to the highly cratered nature of the Noachian highlands terrain onto which the volcanic plains were emplaced, we predict highly asymmetrical lava loading conditions. Crater interiors are predicted to accumulate greater thicknesses of lava over more rapid timescales, while in the intercrater plains, lava accumulation occurs over longer timescales and does not reach great thicknesses. We find that top-down melting due to conductive heat transfer from supraglacial lava flows is generally limited when the emplaced lava flows are less than ∼10 m thick, but is very significant at lava flow thicknesses of ∼100 m or greater. We find that bottom-up cryosphere and ice sheet melting is most likely to occur within crater interiors where lavas accumulate to a sufficient thickness to raise the ice-melting isotherm to the base of the superposed lavas. In these locations, if lava accumulation occurs rapidly, bottom-up melting of the ice sheet can continue, or begin, after lava accumulation has completed in a process we term “deferred melting”. Subsurface mass loss through melting of the buried ice sheets is predicted to cause substantial subsidence in the superposed lavas, leading to the formation of associated collapse features including fracture systems, depressions, surface faulting and folding, wrinkle-ridge formation, and chaos terrain. In addition, if meltwater generated from the lava heating and loading process becomes trapped at the lava flow margins due to the presence of impermeable confining units, large highly pressurized episodic flooding events could occur. Examination of the study area reveals geological features which are generally consistent with those predicted to form as a result of the ice sheet lava heating and loading process, suggesting the presence of surface snow and ice during the Late Noachian to Early Hesperian period.