The Evolution of the Martian Hydrosphere: Implications for the Fate of a Primordial Ocean and the Current State of the Northern Plains
In this paper we consider the hydraulic and thermal conditions that gave rise to the elevated source regions of the Late Hesperian outflow channels and explore their implications for the evolution of the Martian hydrosphere. We find that if the outflow channel floodwaters were derived from a subpermafrost aquifer, then it implies that, throughout the planet's first billion years of evolution, as much as one third of its surface was covered by standing bodies of water and ice. Following the development of the global dichotomy, the bulk of this water would have existed as an ice-covered ocean in the northern plains. We demonstrate that the progressive crustal assimilation of this early surface reservoir of H 2O (punctuated by possible episodes of less extensive flooding) was a natural consequence of the planet's subsequent climatic and geothermal evolution—potentially cycling the equivalent of a km-deep global ocean of water through the atmosphere and subsurface every ∼10 9 years. In response to the long-term decline in planetary heat flow, the progressive cold-trapping of H 2O into the growing cryosphere is expected to have significantly depleted the original inventory of groundwater—a development that could well explain the apparent decline in outflow channel activity observed during the Amazonian. Although primarily a theoretical analysis, our findings appear remarkably consistent with the geomorphic and topographic evidence that Mars once possessed a primordial ocean and that a substantial relic of that body continues to survive as massive ice deposits within the northern plains. Confirmation of the presence of such deposits, combined with the potential detection of a global-scale groundwater system, would provide persuasive support for the validity of this analysis.
- Pub Date:
- November 2001
- Earth Science