Monday, April 25, 2016

Evidence of a Declining Martian Hydrological Cycle Starting 3.7 Billion Years Ago at the Noachian/Hesperian Boundary

Insights into surface runoff on early Mars from paleolake basin morphology and stratigraphy


Goudge et al


We present observations on the morphology and stratigraphy of more than 400 paleolake basins on Mars. We show that there are two distinct classes of Martian paleolake basins: (1) paleolakes fed by regionally integrated valley networks (N = 251), and (2) paleolakes fed by isolated inlet valleys not integrated into broader regional drainage systems (N = 174). We conclude that valley network–fed paleolakes primarily formed prior to approximately the Noachian-Hesperian boundary, ca. 3.7 Ga, while isolated inlet valley paleolakes primarily formed later in Martian history. All 174 isolated inlet valley paleolakes are closed-basin lakes; however, there are surprisingly few (31) valley network–fed closed-basin lakes compared to a large number (220) of valley network–fed open-basin lakes. This observation is consistent with declining levels of fluvial activity over time on the Martian surface. Our results imply that during the era of valley network formation, ∼90% of topographic basins breached by an inlet valley had sufficiently high ratios of water influx to losses to fill, overtop, and form an outlet valley. This conclusion provides an important constraint on the balance between surface runoff production and water losses on early Mars that must be satisfied by any model of the early Martian climate and hydrologic cycle.

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